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UN 'inaction' in Nepal climate struggle

A crucial plan to help Nepal cope with the impact of climate change is at risk because of the alleged failure of the UN to recruit the necessary staff, reports BBC Nepali's Navin Singh Khadka.

Food aid queue, India (Getty Images)
The poor are worst affected by the effects of climate change.

As Nepal witnesses the rapid retreat of its glaciers, erratic rainfall and an increasingly unreliable monsoon, a question of recruitment is delaying efforts to battle the ravages of climate change.

The issue is causing considerable unrest among Nepal's official classes.

The failure to hire a climate change consultant by a major donor has seriously delayed work crucial for a country many fear is particularly vulnerable to climate change, government officials told the BBC.

They argue that the absence of a climate specialist in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Nepal means that it cannot help the government prepare the much awaited National Adaptation Programme of Action (Napa) within the required deadline.

The UNDP stands accused of not hiring any staff in relation to the project for the last eight months.

Arduous task

Under the UN's Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC), the world's least-developed countries are required to have completed Napa in order to apply for a fund that is designed to help them cope with the threat of climate change.

Glacier in Nepal
Petty squabbles earlier hindered the climate change battle.

Of the 48 applicant countries hoping to access the fund, 41 have already prepared the plan - but only Bangladesh and Bhutan have actually received any money.

But for Nepal, it has been an arduous task. It has spent almost three years in the process but has yet to implement the Napa plan.

This is because of an earlier disagreement between the funding agency, Global Environment Facility (GEF), and the UNDP, the agency that is supposed to help Nepal prepare the document.

GEF initially alleged that the UNDP had not prepared the proposal document correctly. The UN argued in response that the procedures of the Washington-based donor were too bureaucratic.

After hearing nothing from the UNDP for almost a year, environment ministry officials last year found out that the proposal document had been returned for alterations to the UN agency by GEF.

The BBC in December unearthed the claims and counterclaims which were behind the delays. The Nepalese government was granted an extra six months by the donors for Napa to be prepared and the new deadline was extended from February 2010 to August 2010.

But officials now say it will be impossible to meet the new deadline because of the staffing issue.

"The UNDP has not been able to hire the consultant and therefore the work of preparing the plan has not been able to move ahead," says Joint Secretary Purushottam Ghimire at the Environment Ministry.

"We have made it clear that we will not be able to prepare Napa within the new deadline."

'Headhunt'

Officials say they are caught up in a difficult situation as they are not allowed to prepare Napa on their own.

Monsoon rain (Image: AP)

"When we say we will not wait for the consultant and will go ahead by ourselves, we are told by the donors that we do not have the capacity to do this," Mr Ghimire said.

"But the trouble is they have not been able to provide us with the climate specialist who is supposed to build our capacity."

UNDP officials in Nepal say despite their earnest efforts they have not been able to get a consultant who meets their criteria.

"We tried to get the right person both by seeking applications and resorting to a headhunt but have not been able to get the right kind of candidate," said Vijaya P Singh, Assistant Resident Representative of the UNDP's Nepal office.

"We realise that there have been delays in making this plan and we wish we could do it at the earliest but what can you do when there is a dearth of such experts in the market?"

UNDP officials say that there are so few specialists because climate change is a relatively new science and most are already pre-occupied by the global climate summit to be held in Copenhagen in only three months time.

Mr Singh insisted that some initial work related to Napa had been initiated and the absence of a consultant was not an insurmountable obstacle.

'Kathmandu to Copenhagen'

But environment ministry officials say that they are increasingly frustrated over the delay to prepare the plan, especially when scientists have warned that poor populations will be hardest hit by climate change.

Corn drying in Nepal
It's feared climate change could lead to food shortages in Nepal

Changes in Nepal's climate have resulted in an increased number of dangerously full glacial lakes, more flash floods, landslides, droughts and wildfires.

But there have been no proper studies to assess the direct impact of climate change and how it affects agriculture, human health, ecology and the economy.

More than 12 donors - most of them Western - recently promised to help Nepal in its fight against climate change.

They made the joint announcement a day after Nepal hosted a regional climate conference "Kathmandu to Copenhagen" in August.

But without a comprehensive adaptation plan like Napa, experts ask, how effective can foreign help be?

It is a question that is likely to prove controversial in coming months.



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