In the middle hills and Terai belt of eastern Nepal, a village spent a rare government donation -- about $3,000 -- to build a well that local leaders hoped would relieve the community from acute water stress. But they lacked an understanding of regional groundwater trends, and within three months, the tap dried up.

Meanwhile, in Uganda's "cattle corridor," herders have to trek increasingly far for food and water, sometimes coming into violent contact with other communities in a country beset by drought and violence. But the government's plan to move the Karamojong herders to settled agricultural land might harm more than it helps.

The lessons of local responses to climate change in Nepal and Uganda might have nothing in common. Then again, they might. And the chance of finding some common links is the basis of a series of on-the-ground case studies that the U.S. Agency for International Development is supporting in Africa, Asia and other parts of the world vulnerable to climate change and internal conflicts.

"I'm not sure any of us know exactly what will come out of this learning. We are all hopeful that there will be some really significant common lessons learned, and that at a minimum, we may draw some common understanding about what climate-sensitive parameters in fragile states might mean," said Cynthia Brady, a senior conflict adviser at USAID.

Speaking at a Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars forum yesterday, Brady noted what she called a "missing middle" between the international scope of the U.N. climate change discussions and the very local, grass-roots efforts to help communities adapt to weather-related impact.

"What we're hoping to do with this case-study approach is to fill this missing middle," she said.

Matching funding to local needs can be difficult
So far, the effort is largely uncoordinated. While several organizations like the World Bank, European agencies, nonprofit agencies and USAID have commissioned studies, experts yesterday acknowledged that no one has emerged with a systematic approach to understanding local climate change adaptation efforts or using them to inform the work of the multibillion-dollar Green Climate Fund.

But, Brady said, one thing that USAID is actively pursuing is drawing out lessons -- and eventually a set of principles -- specifically about conducting climate work in fragile states.

"Doing climate change work in a fragile state is different," she said. "You really have to think about your 'do no harm' parameters."

That's something that Janani Vivekananda, a senior climate change program officer with the peace-building organization International Alert, said she understood firsthand when she visited eastern Nepal. The impact of rising global temperatures played out at a very local level, she noted, showing slides of a bone-dry river that just three years ago was the lifeblood of a local village.

"It is pretty devastating," Vivekananda said. "The community now has to walk a three-hour round trip down to the bottom of the hill to collect water, and this is a job that largely falls to women and children."

And yet, she warned, inappropriate help -- like the community's ill-informed decision to build a well with money it received in the run-up to an election -- can inadvertently exacerbate the problems.

Jeffrey Stark, director of research at the Foundation for Environmental Security and Studies, said his time in Uganda taught a similar lesson. Hoping to solve the problem of conflicts between nomadic pastoralists and other tribes, the Ugandan government is exploring plans to move the cattle herders to agricultural lands. Yet those lands, Stark said, are considered by many to be unsuited for agricultural development.

Addressing climate impacts in these countries and others, experts warned, will have to take into account the dozens of other factors at play in any given community, experts said.

Noted Stark, "The impacts of environmental change are always embedded in a powerful web of social, economic and political factors. First we have to take into account those factors."

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500