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FEATURE: How are perceptions of ‘risk’ formed in the Mekong Delta?


The Mekong Delta region is one of the most vulnerable areas in the world to climate change impacts due to the potential increase in floods, drought, storms and threats to local water sources. The low-lying areas, known as Vietnam’s ´rice basket´ and one of the world’s major rice granaries, are threatened by sea level rise and saline intrusion.   To enable them to make the best adaptive decisions people need knowledge and understanding about the risks posed by climate change.

A research study on effective models for communicating water-related climate change risks among stakeholders was conducted in the Mekong Delta region with support from the CDKN-SUMERNET programme. The research team included the Asian Management and Development Institute (AMDI) and NISTPASS from Vietnam, An Giang University Vietnam, Royal University of Phnom Penh Cambodia, and Kasetsart University from Thailand.

As a part of this larger research project, a baseline survey was carried out by gathering information from households in three different sites situated in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.  All are rural areas frequently affected by climatic hazards such as floods.  The results were used to identify factors that influence knowledge, concern and perception of climate change risks and climate variability in the region. The findings of the study can be utilised to develop effective climate change communication strategies that equip people with the knowledge required to make appropriate adaptive decisions.

According to the study, the factor with the strongest influence in knowledge, concern and perception of climate change risk and climate variability is site location.  Respondents from Thailand had more knowledge of climate change which may indicate more formalised awareness-raising about climate change, whereas Cambodian and Vietnamese respondents were more likely to have observed changes in the climate. Vietnamese respondents reported more variability in flood patterns than the other countries; however, Cambodian and Thai respondents demonstrated much higher levels of concern about the impacts of climate change. The lowest level of concern in Vietnam may be due to the lower level of knowledge or to widespread use of dykes that protected the households surveyed there during the severe floods in 2011.

Other factors that influence knowledge of climate change are gender and education. Men were almost 2.5 times more likely to have heard of climate change than women. Respondents who had completed university or high school were more than three times more likely to have heard of climate change than those who had not completed schooling.

Factors that influence concern about climate change include past experiences of impact of flooding on respondent’s livelihood, observation of changes in the climate, as well as again gender and education. Those who said that flooding had affected their livelihood ´a lot´ over the past decade were four times more likely to have some or a lot of concern about climate change than those who said that flooding had had no effect on their livelihood. People who reported having observed changes in the climate were five times more likely to have a lot or some concern about climate change than those who reported observing no changes, and were 2.5 times more likely to think that climate change would have an impact on future generations. Men were 2.5 times more likely to have “a lot” or “some” concern about climate change, and those who had completed secondary school or high school/tertiary education were three to four times more likely to think climate change would impact future generations than those who had no education.

Understanding local experiences and concerns will assist policy makers to develop communication strategies to most effectively engage communities in each location.  In this regard, the main lessons emerging from this brief study are as follows:

  • Focus communication efforts on the households that have been most impacted by flooding in the past and show more concern about climate change. These households already have a stronger incentive to make adaptive decisions, which may lead to more engagement with climate change issues.
  • Focus communication efforts on issues that are of the greatest concern to households to ensure information is relevant and useful.
  • More education and awareness-raising is needed about climate change in vulnerable communities.
  • Make more efficient use of community groups as climate change communication channels. The fact that social inclusion (membership of a community group, more regular attendance at village meetings and more regular involvement in village activities) was not identified as a factor influencing knowledge of climate change may indicate an opportunity to use community groups to raise climate change awareness among vulnerable communities, provide them with the information they need to make appropriate decisions, and make climate change relevant to them.

By Ngo Cong Chinh, MPA, Director, Research Center for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Asian Management and Development Institute, Hanoi

The full report will be published shortly. 

Picture courtesy of  Martino’s doodles @ flickr creative commons

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