Thursday, June 9, 2011

Some considerations for mainstreaming climate change adaptation in disaster risk reduction at community level

The New Climate Risk Management Project (NCRM) has provided valuable lessons and experiences to the local NGOs that have not yet started working in the area of climate change adaptation and mainstreaming climate change considerations into their local risk reduction initiatives. From this perspective, climate change adaptation and mainstreaming climate change considerations into local initiatives is still at a nascent stage for many of these NGOs. This project in a way provides an entry point for these NGOs to start thinking about implications of climate change for them and for the constituency that they are addressing while also providing an entry point to the local governments and other stakeholders that they engage with. As a result, the project has helped in spreading the word of ‘what needs to be done in a change world’ though in a modest manner.

There are several successes that the project has achieved despite of the reason that both the concept and content of the project are new to both the implementing agency and the agencies and communities that they have collaborated and engaging with. These successes were well documented in the project evaluation report preceding this section. The report clearly indicate that the community engagement process in itself proved to be an essential prerequisite for any climate change adaptation program or project due to the reason that the communities are the first impacted and they are the first responders to these climate change manifestations.

One of the first observations one would easily make while implementing or guiding somebody implementing these kinds of projects is that there is no ‘reliable’ local information for either educating the community members or for designing adaptation interventions at the first place. Educating local communities about global climate change would make little sense to the local communities if the information doesn’t connect them to the reality that they have been observing around them. Hence, the first intervention would be to strengthen the existing risk reduction measures without even asking ‘how much more need to be done’ since the existing interventions themselves needs a fillip to take care of the ‘current observed climate variability’. This may raise a question of whether or not ‘tightening the existing systems’ would suffice to be eligible for a project to be termed ‘climate change adaptation project’.  The answer depends on how the context of adaptation is defined within the project. Probably taking a win-win route would be much easier for these projects, a route in which the activities implemented hold good for the current climate and for the future climate.

Assessing the activities implemented in this project, the project includes both kinds of activities, activities that hold for a future climate change (e.g. floating vegetable gardens that hold good for any level of floods) and for the current floods (e.g. raising the homesteads). Raising the homesteads above the historical level could be a safe approach but may not be termed as ‘climate proof approach’ in absence of reliable climate change impact predictions since nobody can tell if 2 feet above historical floods would suffice and for how long. One of the limitations is that there are cost implications as well. Raising the homesteads from 2 feet above historical flood level to 4 feet above historical flood levels costs more which means additional financial burden for the implementing agencies and for the communities who share the costs.

While it has been a challenge for the implementing agencies to implement these projects, it becomes even more challenging when the local governments consider these projects as ‘out of their mandate’. It is often hard to make them believe that there is a value to integrate the idea of raising homesteads within government driven programs or to introduce training programs on floating vegetable cultivation since they consider these are outside their mandate. The limited resources with the local governments make it even more difficult to find any engaging point with them. The best one could expect is to invite a government official to distribute project benefits to the beneficiaries. The challenge is how to move from this point of engagement to the point of even more stronger engagement such as joint implementation of projects? The project has certainly helped in engaging the local governments to the first step.

The following recommendations appear to be valid for implementing climate change adaptation projects:
1) Climate change adaptation cannot be isolated from any other development efforts. Both development and adaptation are closely interlinked, particularly at the local scale we experienced.
2) There is limited knowledge amongst local communities on what climate change is, why it is happening and how to respond to it. While improving understanding of climate change amongst local communities might be important, communities are interested in understanding how to cope with, and adapt to, change – of which climate change is just one part.
3) Good progress has been made so far in Faridpur and this progress has established a good point to move forwards from. But local governments and NGOs could play a even greater role in promoting local adaptation initiatives by close closely collaborating with each other.
4) Local actions could be more closely based on thorough or ‘scientific’ climate change vulnerability assessments for which the knowledge and tools be made available.
5) Gender aspects could also have been better addressed by the local initiatives, bearing in mind the strong involvement of women in the self-help groups being formed for promoting rural entrepreneurship.
6) While the emphasis of the initiatives was on enhancing incomes and livelihoods, more can be done to promote access to resources such as land, health, education, communication facilities, and energy sources. More effort in these areas is needed. 

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