Barriers and bridges to adaptive capacity: A case study on water governance in the middle hills of south central Nepal

Open Access
Sinclair, Kendra Heather
Graduate Program:
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Petra Tschakert, Thesis Advisor
  • climate change
  • adaptive capacity
  • environmental governance
  • scalar mismatch
  • embodiment
  • access
  • water
  • Nepal
Observed climate change impacts are increasing pressures unevenly across space and amongst social actors who possess differential capacities to cope with and adapt to change. Governance of environmental resources plays an important role in this capacity to adapt, particularly in an era of unprecedented social and environmental changes. What is less known is the degree to which and the extent that environmental governance shapes differential adaptive capacities. Nepal has been identified as one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, with availability of water resources a prime concern. Using qualitative methods conducted during a five-week span of fieldwork in two communities in the middle hills of central Nepal, this research examines how water governance provides a barrier or bridge for the adaptive capacity of socially diverse actors. Findings from this research reveal that the temporal, spatial, and jurisdictional scales involved in water governance decision-making processes are mismatched for the scale and level of water scarcity experienced within study site locations. The repercussions of these mismatches are felt strongest along lines of caste/ethnicity. Additionally this thesis reveals that gendered, embodied practices of access of water also play a role in producing differential adaptive capacities. Through the lenses of scale and level mismatches and embodiment, this work reveals the power dynamics embedded in water governance decision-making processes and the everyday practices of water access, effectively producing barriers to adaptive capacity for some social actors, and bridges for others. This work illuminates the biases and systemic inequities that are embedded in water governance decision-making processes. Furthermore these findings add greater understanding to the literature on adaptive capacity and environmental governance by tracing the scalar dimensions of water governance in its production of differential adaptive capacities. The results of this study can help inform more equitable climate change adaptation practices and water governance policies.