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NEWS: Communities need greater support to cope with loss and damage from climate shifts

CDKN’s Kashmala Kakakhel reports from CoP 18 in Doha on five new case studies that show how climate change is affecting communities’ lives in Kenya, the Gambia, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Micronesia.

Communities make good efforts to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change but these are often insufficient for them to be able to cope effectively.This is the main finding of five new case studies presented at CoP 18 in Doha, at a side event hosted by the CDKN-supported Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative. Based on nearly 1800 household interviews and 200 focus group discussions, the case studies are aimed at helping policymakers understand the challenges of, and potential ways to adapt well to, climate change.

The research team assessed the impacts of a broad range of extreme weather eventsExtreme weather describes weather phenomena that are at the extremes of the historical distribution, especially severe or unseasonal weather. (UKCIP) and slow-onset climatic changes, including floods in Kenya, droughts in the Gambia, cyclones and salinity intrusion in Bangladesh, glacier retreat and changing rainfallRain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then precipitated—that is, become heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth. It ... patterns in Bhutan, and sea-level riseSea level can change, both globally and locally, due to (i) changes in the shape of the ocean basins, (ii) changes in the total mass of water and (iii) changes in water density. Factors leading to sea level rise under global warming include both increases in the total mass of water from the ... and coastal erosion in Micronesia. They found that people’s reactions ranged from introducing new crop varieties and changing harvesting methods, to building walls to try and hold back the encroaching sea or seeking work in cities.

For example, in Bangladesh the intrusion of saltwater onto farmland following cyclone Aila in 2009, affected rice production and drinking waterDrinking water quality has a micro-biological and a physico-chemical dimension. There are thousands of parameters of water quality. In public water supply systems water should, at a minimum, be disinfected—most commonly through the use of chlorination or the use of ultra violet light—or it ... supplies. Communities tried to adapt by reducing salinity in their fields and introducing salt-tolerant rice varieties. Although this approach would be effective in the event of a gradual increase in salinity, it was less helpful given the sudden impact of the cyclone. The subsequent rice crop failed completely, with the costsCost: The consumption of resources such as labour time, capital, materials, fuels, etc. as the consequence of an action. In economics, all resources are valued at their opportunity cost, which is the value of the most valuable alternative use of the resources. Costs are defi ned in a variety of ... from loss of rice production amounting to US$1.9million across four villages. Farmers are now more reliant on earning incomes from alternative activities.

In the Gambia, communities are struggling to adapt to changing rainfall patterns and droughtsA period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance. Drought is a relative term (see Box 3-3), therefore any discussion in terms of precipitation deficit must refer to the particular precipitation-related activity that is under discussion. For example, .... Inadequate rainfall last year caused crop production to fall by 50 per cent compared to the five-year average. Farmers have tried to cope by looking for alternative sources of income to buy food, such as fishing, selling livestock or firewoodCollecting and/or buying firewood consumes large amounts of time and income in developing countries. Indoor pollution is a health concern with traditional fireplaces., or migrating to find work. However, some have had to rely on food aid. Focus group participants expressed the need for drought-resistant crop varieties, better soil and water conservation, and crop insuranceCrop insurance is purchased by agricultural producers, including farmers, ranchers, and others to protect themselves against either the loss of their crops due to natural disasters, such as hail, drought, and floods, or the loss of revenue due to declines in the prices of agricultural ... to make their agricultural system less vulnerable to the vagaries of the weatherWeather refers to the state of the atmosphere with regard to temperature, cloudiness, rainfall, wind, and other meteorological conditions. (UKCIP). For 63%, the coping strategies failed to provide sufficient food for them.

Loss and damage from climate change is already significant. Yet none of the existing literature fully reflects how climatic variables affect society. It was this need, and the desire to understand more about the emerging issue of loss and damage, that prompted the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) to set up the Loss and Damage in Vulnerable Countries Initiative in November 2011. The GoB requested assistance from CDKN to help build a common understanding around the topic. The new case studies are the response to that request.

The authors of the case studies called on decision makers at Doha to recognize that loss and damage is already happening. They urged them to scale-up mitigationMitigation refers to actions that reduce our contribution to the causes of climate change. This means reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), through energy efficiency and using alternative forms of transport and energy.(UKCIP) to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsGreenhouse gas emissions cause dangerous anthropogenic climate change. Emissions include CO2, fluoridated gases, methane which are emitted by human activity such as deforestation and burning fossil fuels, and water vapour.; increase efforts to help communities become more resilient and adapt to climate shifts and weather-related events effectively; address ‘hard limits’ and impacts that adaptation actions would be unable to address; and provide systematic support to communities and governments so they can assess and address risks from loss and damage.

The findings of the case studies emphasize the need for support to be made available to national governments,” said Dr. Koko Warner, United Nations University, heading the case study process as partner organisation in the Initiative. “Some impacts will be so great that adaptation efforts will be fruitless. In other situations, widespread poverty or the engagement of most of a population in a vulnerable livelihoodSustainable livelihood includes job opportunities that are of a non-invasive type, and exclude extensive felling, heavy fishery, mono-cultures and other activities than permanently harm the environment; it also includes an lifestyle that takes care of any gives assets, such as fresh water or ... may render that particular community incapable of adaptation. However, with suitable systems and policies in place, governments will be better placed to monitor these threats and be ready with measures to ensure their populations have sufficient food to eat as and when damaging weather-related events occur.”

Read more about the COP18 side event: On the Ground Realities of Loss and Damage in Less Developed Countries

Find out more about what CDKN is doing is Doha.

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