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FEATURE: Understanding how climate change impacts different social groups in Namibia

Suzanne Carter of CDKN reflects on how Vulnerability Risk Assessment (VRA) training in Namibia aims to help decision makers better understand how climate change and social vulnerabilities intersect, and plan effective community adaptation interventions.

The University of Namibia and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare recently co-hosted a workshop in November for regional and national Ministry staff on the Vulnerability Risk Assessment (VRA) tool. The tool is commonly used to determine community adaptation interventions and helps stakeholders to consider a range of issues and how they affect different groups in society. The intention is for Ministry staff to apply the VRA tool in their own work with communities to better understand how climate change and social vulnerabilities intersect to better understand the risks.

The project builds on work under the ASSAR project where VRA was piloted in Omusati in Namibia and Bobirwa in Botswana. The pilot in Omusati encountered some challenges, as not all affected communities were involved. However, there was interest from regional government to take up the method, which had resulted in positive change in Botswana. Funds have been provided by CDKN for the VRA method to be applied in two regions – Omusati and Oshana – specifically to build resilience through income-generating activities supported by the Ministry. Representatives from other regions also attended the training so that the project could be replicated in other regions using government or donor funding in the future. Participants were keen to see how they could put the VRA into practice to understand how climate change is affecting community risks in different ways for specific social groups.

Applying the Vulnerability Risk Assessment

The team identified over 30 hazards and community issues that affect the regions represented at the workshop – from previous ASSAR research and other resources. Participants then voted on the long list to identify their top ten issues. Climate issues that the group identified as top priorities for their regions were: droughts, information about climate change, food security and access to water resources.

Other social issues identified were unemployment, sanitation, gender-based violence, marketing and selling of livestock, horticulture and aquaculture, youth and male migration to urban areas, alcohol and drug abuse and human wildlife conflict (e.g. wildlife destroying crops). Then groups looked at the impact of each of these issues on a range of social groups including unemployed youth, female-headed households, subsistence farmers, small-scale traders, young couples etc. They ranked the theoretical exposure to the hazard or issue and the current sensitivity of the group to each issue to gauge the overall vulnerability.

When looking at how all these issues affect different social groups, a clearer picture of the vulnerabilities of these groups emerges. Some issues such as drugs and alcohol were most prevalent in a single group (unemployed youth) for example. The hazards and issues affecting the largest number of social groups were gender-based violence, information about climate change, unemployment, and marketing of livestock, horticulture etc.

Using impact chain analysis, causal relationships can be established for each hazard. This analysis looks at all the factors that contribute to a hazard and all the consequences of the problem. For example, a lack of awareness of climate issues leads to information about climate change not being used in decision-making. Interventions can then be identified to reduce the hazard, in this case increasing dissemination in local languages about climate change could be one of the interventions. Four priority interventions were identified for scoping into a project proposal: climate smart agriculture, disseminating climate information, awareness of gender based violence and upscaling of income generating activities.

The last step involved developing a project idea for the intervention with the most likelihood of addressing the challenges in the community, mapping out which institutions should be involved and which resources are needed.

Looking forward

Reflections from the Ministry highlighted the importance of combining gender and climate experts in the process. Otherwise it is difficult to ensure that the prioritisation reflects both factors. There was not always sufficient understanding of the climate change impacts and how these integrate with social equity issues and trainees needed more information. The Ministry of Environment and Tourism intends to work with the officials to ensure further climate change knowledge is shared.

Building resilience through income-generating activities supported by the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare is a key opportunity to decrease the vulnerability of those most at risk. With careful planning and awareness raising both issues can be addressed to achieve climate resilience while promoting social equity.

Further reading: Read the VRA manual developed by Oxfam. VRA has also been used successfully in Botswana – see a video of the training conducted in Botswana. 

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