Reflective trainings were held about twice a year to identify challenges and develop capacity of SLCC members to manage the reformed LIS. Learnings were incorporated into the project cycle in the form of adapted activities or approaches. To make LIS relevant locally, a model guidelines document was prepared for adaptation in five blocks – Bhijer, Saldang, Dho, Phoksundo and Dolphu. Yet, they all had a common objective – to aid respective communities in accessing relief, and a common approach – requiring individual household contributions.
Not all previous funds have been retrieved, and the LIS are in different stages of functionality. Bhijer has begun implementation, collected premiums, and retrieved all funds belonging to its beneficiaries. Remaining four have reached out to their respective communities, generating increasing understanding and interest in owning this community welfare initiative.
For now, LIS management costs borne by SPNP-WWF project are showcasing what could be done with their own funds when systematically managed. Nearly 270 households of mid and upper Dolpo were among the beneficiaries of WDRG relief receiving over Rs8.2 million of the Rs10.4 million granted by SPNP last year.
The communities’ SLCC and LIS leadership has contributed to this success. SPNP teams under the leadership of several Chief Conservation Officers, including young officers who reached the remotest regions of SPNP, blending with the community, to seasoned senior officials with years of experience in protected area management, have played a key role. With their knowledge of policy and understanding of the community, they have mobilised their authority to draw national WDRG funds to help the people here access their rights.
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Likewise, local government authorities, such as the Shey Phoksundo Rural Municipality, have facilitated strengthening this bridge. Among their key contributions to this initiative has been improvement in communication. Five years ago, without satellite phones, connecting the remote upper Dolpo with the rest of the world including NP authorities required physically traversing these extreme terrains. Now most villages are connected through telephones and even the internet.
Without clarity of context, one may be tempted to criticise the nominalism of the relief provided. After all, the last fiscal year’s relief from WDRG provisions, averages just about Rs8,500 per livestock lost. Yet, for the community that only five years ago were excluded from this benefit, the change has been transformational.
Whether this has benefited snow leopards is a matter of further research. Subjectively however, knowing what was then, what is now, and what has gone on to reach this state, the WWF team is privileged to have been a small part of this change to help the communities that live with and protect the snow leopard.
The LIS are far from perfect; learning, adapting, and improving is the only constant. Yet, as we celebrate this mountain day, we honour these community leaders and government officials who have used this scheme to bridge the divide and taken us another step closer to secure the future of the magnificent snow leopard together with the mountain communities.
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