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OPINION: Bridging the gaps between climate risk research, community resilience, and policy formulation


Delali Dovie and Eno Anwana from the Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS) at the University of Ghana explain how innovative learning and sharing practices are linking researchers, communities and policy makers, helping coastal Ghanaians become climate resilient.

Due to rapid urbanisation, a quarter of Ghana’s population now lives in coastal areas. Coastal Ghanaians, many poor and urbanised, are increasingly vulnerable to future impacts of climate change and are already suffering the effects of flooding, settlement displacement, and infrastructure loss. Managing climate-related risks in coastal environments has therefore come under scrutiny in recent years. However, a comprehensive framework to manage these risks in Ghana is still lacking.

At RIPS, we believe that integrating a climate risk framework into local development planning will contribute significantly to risk management strategies. With support from CDKN, RIPS initiated a research project with a difference: to give vulnerable communities, and state and non-state actors the opportunity to collectively rethink the impacts of climate change on coastal livelihoods and improve communication of appropriate interventions across local, district and national platforms.

Our goals were ambitious and required combining innovative methodologies, like theatre and participatory learning, with standard methodologies like surveys and policy dialogues.

RIPS facilitators engage fishmongers in a CRiSTAL exercise

RIPS facilitators engage fishmongers in a CRiSTAL exercise

For starters, researchers and policy makers did not prescribe adaptive practices. Rather, coastal communities were supported in defining their own adaptation and resilience pathways through community-based ‘reciprocal learning’ processes. Six communities participated; three urban and three peri-urban. The Community Based Risk Screening Tool – Adaptation and Livelihoods (CRiSTAL) provided the basis for a climate change impact assessment. This empowered local participants to articulate climate related disaster risk reduction and planning. In turn, these co-productive learning activities validated and increased ownership over the emerging research results. RIPS supported these ‘informal’ communication strategies with a newsletter entitled ‘Climate Risk Talk’ which offered a non-technical, policy and planning-oriented briefing on the project.

Workshop participants visit an affected community at Dangbe-East

Workshop participants visit an affected community at Dangbe-East

Similarly, policy makers and practitioners weren’t simply lectured on climate-related risk management, but had to think through challenges with activity-based, ‘learning by doing’ and dialogue-based roundtables. Ghanaian policy actors were given an opportunity to create future coastal environments. They envisioned communities that had access to clean, efficient energy and are well defended against coastal erosion and sea level rise through properly planned fish stock storages and building codes that promote climate resilient infrastructure.

Participants at a policy roundtable discussion

Participants at a policy roundtable discussion

These activities also provided a platform to link  vulnerable communities to different levels of planning; from district to national policy discussions.

This research has informed discussion of Ghana’s climate change policy framework and the establishment of a community-based climate change adaptation fund in Ghana. The latter conceived by vulnerable communities in Totope, in the Ada-East district, during a policy outreach. Another major product of the research is a regional conference (3-7 June 2013).

Dr Delali Dovie is a researchers at the Regional Institute for Population Studies at the University of Ghana. CDKN is assisting his team to build a framework to manage climate-related risks for coastal communities in Ghana. RIPS’s work is featured in CDKN’s new publication on climate resilience and disaster risk management, presenting recent results from CDKN-supported projects to assess vulnerability and mainstream climate resilience into development planning in India, Colombia and Ghana.

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