Local heroes: community-based adaptation

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14 December 2009

Barbara Kiser reports on a session on planning adaptation held on Day 3 of the Development and Climate Days event in Copenhagen

‘In finding solutions for climate change, don’t reinvent the wheel. The wheel that fits your own community is the wheel that matters.’ So said environmentalist, researcher and executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies Atiq Rahman, leading a findings-packed session on community-based adaptation (CBA) with focused energy.

CBA is an innovative approach to ‘climate coping’ in the communities of the developing world, centred on building in resilience. Given the current pace of climate change and the vulnerability of many developing countries, it is an idea whose time has come. As Rahman put it, ‘Adaptation is happening now, and the next 50 years will be key.’

Local adaptation is and will be particularly important as conditions become more intense or variable under climate change. In a drought-prone area, for instance, communities will have developed strategies such as selective breeding of drought-resilient varieties of staple crops. These strategies work because they’re closely tailored to local conditions.

So villages and neighbourhoods are key players in the day-to-day management of climate impacts — as long as they can get the support they need when they need it.

The session’s speakers hailed from six NGOs working in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries: Bertha Nherera from Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM), Zimbabwe; Bettina Koelle from Indigo Development & Change; Wahida Bashar Ahmed of ActionAid Bangladesh; Thomas Tanner of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS); Angie Daze of CARE; and Delfin Ganapin of the UNDP Small Grants Programme.

Planting water

Through case studies and discussion they revealed approaches ranging from engaging children in adaptation work to ‘planting water’ — simple but innovative techniques for rainwater harvesting, which enables subsistence crops to be grown through droughts.

Many of the findings underlined ongoing, widespread issues in development work, such as the way language can get in the way of understanding between scientists and farmers. Koelle pointed out that poor farmers in South Africa, for instance, may say there were several ‘very hot’ days in summer when asked by scientists working with them what ‘peak summer temperatures’ are.

Tanner meanwhile emphasised how children in developing-world communities, long viewed as passive in the context of climate change, can be central to adaptation success. They engage in and enrich the adaptation process by offering fresh approaches and playing positive, active roles.

‘A whole generation has frightened off young people and not provided solutions,’ said Rahman. ‘But children are part of society. They are part of the solution.’

Rahman ended by emphasising that development would not stop — and that that set up an urgency to ensuring communities are able to roll with the punches. ‘The big companies, the roadmakers and loggers, are coming; so what can communities do?’

Adaptation funding will inevitably be a major factor in ensuring local people keep lives and livelihoods safe through the coming shifts — but at the moment such funding is far from decided.

‘Climate change cannot be an excuse to repeat the failures of development,’ Rahman warned. ‘Communities must be served as well.’

Other events at Day 3 of D&C Days included sessions on negotiating climate information needs for improved humanitarian response and rural livelihoods, national adaptation planning, and emerging themes in adaptation; and the nonstop Parallel Film Festival.

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