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FEATURE: Partnership counts the successes and challenges of building resilience


Mairi Dupar, CDKN’s Global Public Affairs Coordinator, reports from The Hague, where she joined the CDKN-supported Partners for Resilience alliance to take stock of their ambitious programme to build community resilience in developing countries.

Question: What do you get when you mix disaster risk specialists with climate change and natural resource experts, and send them off to work together for three years?

Answer: 391 community risk assessments, a checklist of 39 tasks to achieve ‘ecosystem-smart disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation’ plus 11 minimum standards for ‘local climate-smart disaster risk reduction’. And some fascinating stories about how professionals can work across disciplines, with governments and communities, to help poor people build their resilience to natural hazards.

I spent yesterday at the global conference of the Partners for Resilience (PfR), an alliance that brings together just such a diverse mix of climate change, natural resource and disaster risk experts. PfR’s  goal is to reduce the impact of natural hazards on vulnerable communities in nine countries:  Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kenya, India, Indonesia, Mali, Nicaragua, Philippines, and Uganda.

PfR members have converged on The Hague, Netherlands to share insights on their three  years’ work to achieve greater community resilience – and to establish the priorities for the rest of their five-year programme. The Global Conference has brought together the core partners in the alliance: CARE Nederland, Cordaid, the Netherlands Red Cross, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, and Wetlands International, from all of the countries where they are working together.

Redefining development

PfR is trying to accomplish something very ambitious. The Partners recognise that a complete transformation is needed in the way that local communities understand, evaluate and manage for climate-related risks.   Allen Lavell, one of PfR’s global advisors, said “It’s a matter of redefining development so no development can lead to loss of life and livelihoods” [because of poor design or climate impacts].

PfR also wants to enrich understanding and adoption of ecosystem-based approaches to climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction. In practice, this means they are trying to stop planners from relying on hard engineering solutions to climate-related problems by default. Such fixes, like dams and concrete walls, can create as many problems as they solve. For example, if a river is increasingly susceptible to flooding or a coastal settlement is at high risk of more frequent storm surges, are there options for managing the landscape by planting vegetation, managing the flows of water and sediment, or changing land use, that would be much better than hard infrastructure for conserving the environment and sustaining livelihoods?

One + one + one = five

Getting all three perspectives – from ecosystem management, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation – to work harmoniously together hasn’t been easy. Participants were frank about the growing pains they have experienced, despite their lofty goals.

This has really put us out of our comfort zone,” said Julio Montes de Oca Lugo of Wetlands International – South America. “It is not just the time sitting and discussing but the time putting changes into practice, too.

Members of the partner organisations faced hurdles in understanding how climate change impacts might occur – and in getting to grips with the uncertainties of climate science. This, in turn, made it hard to come up with appropriate language to talk about climate risks with communities

Once you line up the mind-sets, then you have to translate the terms into practical language,” added Peter van Eijk of Wetlands International.

If we’re speaking with the local government planning department, we have to talk in terms of development, we have to speak their language,” said Anat Prag of Cordaid Indonesia.

Another challenge was the sheer volume of information produced through the community risk assessments. The Philippines team ended up with 200 questions in their community questionnaire, said Donna Lagdameo of the Climate Centre and her colleagues from the Philippines. The project team had to analyse and summarise the information carefully before presenting it to local government and communities, so as not to confuse them.

In total, the PfR country teams carried out risk mapping activities in an impressive 391 communities – mapping that tried to include disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation, and ecosystem management criteria as well as possible. They found that the most common natural hazards faced by the communities are climate-related – droughts and floods. However, “the integrated community risk assessments demonstrated that greater hazard impacts are not solely caused by a changing climate, environmental mismanagement is also to blame,” concluded Erin Coughlan et al, who have written a summary report on the findings (forthcoming, 2013).

Building on these assessments, most of the target communities are now being supported by PfR to develop climate disaster risk management plans.  The story emerging from the partner organisations is that in spite of the growing pains of their collaboration, the results are worth the wait.  “It took a long time but it is worth it in the end!” laughed Ms Lagdameo.

Participants from all nine countries reported that community assessments are richer, thanks to the partnership, with staff of the different organisations “supporting each other on the ground” and “lending each other advice.”

Perhaps most significantly, the marriage of the three perspectives  has led to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts: one + one+ one= five.

The communities have done the assessments, they are implementing the actions, it’s been important to confidence-building in the organisations,” said Peter van Eijk. “It’s raised gaps in knowledge and action so they can explore ways to plug the gaps together, not just within but also across communities facing the same issues, such as windWind occurs due to different temperature levels in the atmosphere (troposphere) which are heated up by the sun. A typical example are the trade winds at the equator where the sun is most powerful. control, erosion control, or lack of climate information.”

The community-level collaborations have also led to the partners mobilising greater financial and in-kind resources than they would have done, if each was acting alone. This was the case in Ethiopia, for example, and in Uganda, where Monica Angaparu of CARE said the partners “have done lots of advocacy to mobilise funds from other donors.

Embracing best practice

Meanwhile, the 39 tasks and 11 minimum standards developed by the partners are providing a practical guide to best practice.  They are living documents that have been developed and honed as a result of this ‘learning by doing’ and will be tested and refined as PfR continues.

The minimum standards for disaster risk reduction, which have been funded by CDKN, outline actions local leaders, national and provincial civil society organisations to help build resilience at community level. The standards cover basic building blocks  for resilience. These range from community awareness of changes in weather patterns to the availability of local weather information, to the existence of contingency plans for when disaster strikes and commitments to monitor whether the contingency plans are working. As one participant said, “awareness is critical but alone, it never saved a life.”

The ‘Criteria for ecosystem-smart disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation’, similarly, comprise a checklist from awareness through action and evaluation.

A lively session in the PfR Global Conference required participants to vote with their feet on whether the minimum standards and ecosystem management criteria were easy to understand and implement. Knud Falk, a technical advisor at the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, said he was heartened to find how many people voted that the guidelines were working well in communities. Some participants are only partly on the road to implementation, but everyone feels the guidelines were useful and achievable.

Linking and learning

With just two years of the formal PfR programme left, it appears that the deeper benefits of this ambitious partnership are just beginning to show.  Not only can the members of the alliance look forward to working with communities to realise their climate-smart disaster risk reduction plans and to conserving vital ecosystem services. They can also look forward to documenting and reflecting on insights from their experience, and applying these insights to new endeavours.

CDKN has provided funding for the Philippines and Indonesian partners to gather their experiences in a series of 24 case studies from the field. These will be published in October 2013. Watch this space for more.

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Find out more about Scaling up climate resilience with Partners for Resilience (PfR)

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