Rural communities in Nepal and Lao PDR have historically been affected by flooding and drought conditions. In Lao PDR, floods have caused widespread damage to latrines and droughts have killed crops which undermines sanitation demand creation. In Nepal, extreme rainfall contaminates drinking water sources and prolonged dry periods causes primary water sources to dry up, leading to people using unsafe alternative sources. The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report suggests mean annual rainfall will increase in Lao PDR and the dry and wet seasons will increasingly contrast in Nepal as more rain falls during the monsoons and less in the dry season.

Local governments in Nepal and Lao PDR, already challenged in improving access to safely managed WASH in rural communities, are increasingly confronted with ensuring WASH access under extreme wet and dry conditions. However, the extent to which local governments are aware of the increasing impacts of extreme weather on WASH, their feelings toward their obligations to respond to climate impacts on WASH, and whether they feel they have adequate tools and knowledge for addressing impacts are unclear. Gaining a clearer picture of the motivations and barriers of local governments to strengthen climate resilience of rural WASH in their communities is need to develop appropriate interventions to support local governments.

The Institute for Sustainable Futures, in partnership with SNV Nepal, SNV Lao PDR and the National University of Laos, are implementing the project “Inspiring local government heroes of climate action for inclusive WASH” to support local governments in Nepal and Lao PDR to overcome barriers to addressing climate change impacts within their jobs and champion climate action for inclusive WASH. The project will focus on rural water in Sarlahi and Dailekh districts of Nepal and rural sanitation in Atsaphone, Champone, and Phalanxay districts of Lao PDR.

SNV and partners are developing innovative techniques for understanding the motivators and constraints of local government to tackle climate change issues in the WASH sector, using these to trigger action, and developing tailored support to motivated local government authorities to act on climate change. This approach draws on user-centred design thinking techniques that have been successfully employed in the SNV-ISF “Making Rights Real” approach to inspire potential champions of the human rights to water and sanitation (‘would-be heroes’) in other contexts to take action. The project takes a collaborative approach involving CSO, international and local researchers, and government actors to support incremental and doable climate actions at the local level in the rural WASH sector.

The project will produce user-friendly outputs that will provide guidance on how to replicate the successful methods of this project and transfer it to other contexts. It will also produce case study outputs for Lao PDR and Nepal to illustrate the relevance and feasibility of addressing climate change impacts on WASH systems and services at a local government level to the global WASH sector.

The project builds climate resilience for inclusive WASH in both process and outcomes. SNV and partners will seek the active participation of women government officials in the project and pay particular attention to the barriers that women in government face in becoming outspoken advocates within their departments. Tailored support will be given to female would-be heroes of climate action to support them to overcome gendered barriers. All government participants will receive support in understanding that climate change creates unequal impacts on WASH access and the importance of household and community inclusion for strengthening resilience.

As a result of this project, local government officials in Nepal and Lao PDR will be inspired to champion climate action within their work to support inclusive WASH in rural communities. They will have improved knowledge and understanding of climate change-inclusive WASH nexus issues and better access to resources for integrating climate resilience into their everyday work. They will be encouraged to advocate for climate resilience and inclusive WASH to others in their departments and take action on mainstreaming climate resilience into their WASH strategies. Female government participants will have increased confidence and respect from their peers when speaking about climate change. Finally, government participants will be more sensitive to issues of equity and inclusion with respect to climate impacts which will lead them plan for community support mechanisms that are more likely to provide equitable benefits.