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Giving communities a voice in resilience
JOHANNESBURG, 5 March 2013 (IRIN) - Contrary to popular belief, most
rural communities facing recurrent climate shocks learn to adapt, using
their own resources and knowledge. Yet many international aid
programmes have outside "experts" craft interventions without the
involvement of those they seek to help.
And many development projects do not actually promote adaptability,
said Simon Levine of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), in a
2012 Oxfam blog post
lking-about-a-revolution> . "The vast majority of these interventions,
and the people designing and running them, never talked about 'change'
or 'the future' at all. If you want to help people be able to deal with
change, then you have to start by thinking about them as people who
have their own minds and preferences and plans, and the right to
choose, and the right to be able to make an informed choice. They don't
need skills that are right for today half as much as they need to know
where they can find the skills they may need tomorrow."
But a handful of NGOs is asking communities what they need to better
adapt to changing environmental and climatic conditions. Such
initiatives seek practical ways to implement resilience while taking
into account the strengths, coping mechanisms and ideas of the people
they intend to assist.
One such initiative is Partners for Resilience (PfR), a collaboration
of CARE Netherlands, Cordaid, the Netherlands Red Cross, the Red
Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, Wetlands International and 30 civil
society partners in the global South. Established in 2011, PfR works in
nine countries in Africa, Asia and Central America.
"If you want to help people be able to deal with change, then you have
to start by thinking about them as people who have their own minds and
preferences and plans, and the right to choose"
Based on its interactions with local communities, local and national
government representatives, and other partners, the initiative has
drawn up a list of minimum standards
to help local actors
reduce climate-related disaster risks.
The list "does not aim for impossibly idealized solutions but for
practical approaches that are achievable by communities with relatively
limited support", explained Maarten van Aalst, head of the Red
Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre.
At the very least, the minimum standards say, a community must: be
aware that future climate risks will be different from today's; be able
to interpret early warnings about possible climatic shocks and use them
in local adaptation; be able to conduct and update risk assessments;
and identify ways to adapt or change existing livelihoods. The
community should also have relationships with meteorological agencies,
and be able communicate their needs to government and climate
In 2009, another group of NGOs - including Oxfam, Care International,
Save the Children, World Vision International and ODI - formed the
Africa Climate Change Resilience Alliance (ACCRA) to explore how
development interventions could improve people's adaptive capacity.
ACCRA works to understand communities' mindsets before determining
interventions. It studies how they cope with shocks, their local
institutional arrangements and their power relations, and it explores
the social networks they rely on for support.
ACCRA also tries to engage communities on issues beyond just climate
change-related shocks and disasters, considering long-term trends like
rising food prices, increasing temperatures and population growth -
issues that require flexible and forward-looking decision-making.
For example, ACCRA has partnered with the Red Cross/Red Crescent
Climate Centre, the firm Abaci and Antidote Games to develop a game to
encourage locals to make flexible and forward-looking decisions in
response to real-world climate-change scenarios. The game is being used
in research workshops in
Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda.
"Ours is more [a method] of empowering existing institutions with
evidence and knowledge to create a demand-driven approach," said Saskia
Daggett, a coordinator at ACCRA.
Since its inception, ACCRA has gathered evidence
experiences in three countries - Ethiopia, Mozambique and Uganda -
which it hopes will inform the work of other aid actors.
Decision-making at community level
ACCRA's strategy seems to be working. Based on feedback from the
populations of two districts in Uganda, ACCRA has managed to foster
constructive relationships with communities and various tiers of
Responding to the districts' requests for climate information, ACCRA
brought in meteorologists to explain forecasts and climate data. By
creating connections between several government structures, ACCRA
helped the officials communicate this information to the public. This
included translating early warnings about possible poor rains into
several local languages, then disseminating the warnings through radio,
television and pamphlets.
As a result, the communities were better able to prepare for the poor
rains. Since they had already developed a positive relationship with
their local governments, they were able to effectively communicate
their needs, which included water points, planting trees and improved
seeds. With the useful and timely feedback of the community, the
district officials, in turn, were able to produce response plans and to
source funds for government action, says Daggett.
Now, other districts want to emulate these efforts. "There is much
better interplay and understanding between the communities and all the
government actors and NGOs," Daggett said.
Still, governments and NGOs continue to rely on short-term, reactive
planning, she added.
And some communities' traditions can inhibit disaster prevention and
ACCRA discovered that, in some villages in Ethiopia, innovation "was
clearly constrained by a dominant culture that frowned on doing things
differently. There was strong opposition to individuals changing sowing
dates", for example, as the rainfall patterns changed.
This is where development actors can step in and support those who dare
The message of these new initiatives is, as one ACCRA paper
ment-interventions> put it, "All development interventions need an
agency lens, ie, they need to be thought of not simply as delivering a
given infrastructure or technology, but as vehicles for expanding
people's range of choices."
Building resilience - A series of articles exploring what resilience
means for vulnerable communities, and its impact on the architecture of
Read report online
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United
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