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

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

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Date: 25th November 2012
Type: News

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 events and slow-onset climatic changes, including floods in Kenya, droughts in the Gambia, cyclones and salinity intrusion in Bangladesh, glacier retreat and changing rainfall patterns in Bhutan, and sea-level rise 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 water 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 costs 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 droughts. 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 firewood, 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 insurance to make their agricultural system less vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather. 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 mitigation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; 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 livelihood 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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