Introduction to Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change

Introduction to Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change
September 2010 Newsletter

Online Learning

This Month’s News
Last Call:
Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change: A Module of Four Online Courses Begins in September
Last Call: OL 101. From the Ground Up: Designing and Funding Sustainable Development Projects. September 2010.

Fan us on Facebook. Please visit our new Facebook Page – CSDi Development Community.

Featured Partner Project of the month: KENYA. 300 undernourished children of 120 families will become well-nourished and healthy. Help implement a nutrition program and the planting of family fruit and vegetable gardens for 120 families. The program will help 300 children become free from illness and be sufficiently nourished to attend and excel in school. Donate To This Project.

New Resources:
Field Tools for the 12 Sectors of Development. The Center for Sustainable Development has just published a new resource where you can find background information, manuals, workshop lesson plans, how-to cards and links to specialized documents.

The Adaptation Group has a Document Reader where I encourage you to post documents for sharing. You can access it by clicking on Document Reader near the top of the page.

I have been assembling important links for the upcoming Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change course.

Introduction to Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change
What exactly is community-based adaptation to climate change, and what are communities adapting to? The underlying idea is that in developing a climate change linked project, is to engage the community from the very beginning of the project design and foster the development of skills sets so that they can be the long-term stewards of the project activities and the outcomes. Why? Because if you work for an NGO that is designing and launching this project your funding will end in one, two, or three years – and you’ll leave. So the community needs to continue the activities long after you are gone.

And what are these challenges that are linked to climate change? They are as diverse as other development challenges. In fact it’s very important in the beginning of project design to determine if indeed the problem that the community is facing is indeed related to climate change or to another more traditional problem. The reason for this is that the solutions for a climate linked problem and a more traditional problem might take two different approaches.

An overly simplified example could be that a village spring has dried up. Is this due to the fact that there’s a climate induced drought or is it due to the fact that the hillsides behind the village have been deforested and rainwater no longer percolates slowly into the soil and into underground water channels? A watershed restoration that could include reforesting the hills might not have the long-term required impact if indeed the spring dried up because of the long-term drought.

Many of the projects that I see that appear to be climate linked relate to water: too much or too little. This can lead to contaminated water supplies and disease. This can force families to migrate — or worse force the men and sons to migrate leaving their wives and families behind. Too much or too little water also has a profound impact on agriculture leading to widespread malnutrition.

What are some simple examples of adaptation activities that we could incorporate into projects? Development activities used in adaptation projects cover the same range of activities that you would use in other types of development projects.

The first activity should be to build awareness in your community about the challenges and vulnerabilities that they will face in a changing climate — and to make sure that they are included in training that will give them the skills to maintain activities.

In a water shortage situation concerning agriculture some successful ideas have been soil and water conservation activities such as building organic material into the soil. This allows soil to act more like a sponge and hold water; keeping organic material on the soil surface reduces evaporation. A number of groups have come up with interesting low-tech drip irrigation systems that target water to the plant’s roots.

Other activities could include promoting drought tolerant crops, harvesting rainwater, small subsurface dams in dry river beds to trap underground water, helping community members develop alternate ways of generating income, developing water catchment systems on rock outcrops, developing early warning systems for malnutrition and disease detection, and the list goes on and on.

The differences in using these activities in adaptation projects is to bear in mind the timescale of an adaptation project; the project will need to be able to be maintained for decades. One of the challenges in development is project sustainability. Frequently in development we may be talking about a project with a relatively short duration that may not need to be maintained by the community after the NGO has left: a childhood vaccination program could be an example of that.

But if your adaptation project involves something like soil conservation, or water conservation, or the restoration of a watershed, or improved agricultural techniques, these activities will need to be continued and maintained by the communities long after you, and your NGO have departed.

Consequently, you need to begin developing a sense of community ownership from the very beginning. Ideally, you would want your community to view this project as being their idea and their project — and you’re just a short-term consultant who’s coming in to give them a spot of expertise. So from first contact with the community we need to begin engaging with them and helping them to develop a sense of project ownership.

Aside from the sense of ownership the community will need to be given the skill sets that they need to continue and maintain the project activities. This may involve training sessions spread out over several years, it may involve a long-term integrated follow-up program, it may involve specialized tools, and it will most certainly incorporate the fact that the community members need to have an understanding about their vulnerability to climate change and how these activities can help them adapt to changing conditions.

A challenge you may come up with while working with a community in the field is that the community may not prioritize a need which is related to climate change. Just last week a colleague confided that his community was disappointed in his project design because it focused entirely on adaptation activities but not on their main priorities. This does not foster community based ownership of a project.

In this situation, you have several options. You can focus on their highest priorities for a first short project and in this way develop a trusting relationship with the community such that you can return with an adaptation centered project. You can do a mixture of activities so that you include some adaptation techniques mixed in with activities for a project based upon another set of needs.

Or you could begin a short project designed to address their prioritized need and at the same time begin an educational process to help the community better understand the effects climate change may have on them and the importance of developing a set of tools to help them adapt to these changes.

If you’re interested in adaptation I encourage you to join The Adaptation Group in the Center’s Development Community where you can discuss options and ideas with other people interested in adaptation:


Tim Magee

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