Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing the global community today as it respects no borders, no status or creed. However, the impact of climate change is disproportionate due to access to resources and capacity to adapt to, cope with or recover from climate change events. Of all people, climate vulnerable communities are among those who are at high risk of being adversely affected by climate change resulting in loss of livelihood, loss of lives and property, climate induced migration and climate gentrification among many other challenges.
The need for action to help protect climate vulnerable communities is paramount to holistically address climate change at all levels and prevent the amplification of already existing problems and ensure the achievement of sustainable development goals. It is worth noting that climate change shifts the sustainability challenge beyond conservation to adaptation and resilience. Climate adaptation refers to the response to specific climatic threats that vary widely over geographic locations and time. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), climate resilience refers to the ability of a system, community or society exposed to climate disaster to resist, absorb, adapt to, and recover from the effects of the climatic event in a timely and efficient manner including through preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.
For climate resilience and adaptation mechanisms to be effective, vulnerable populations must be directly engaged and adequately supported by international agencies, national and local government, academics, experts, and nonprofit organizations to develop locally relevant, culturally appropriate, and sustainable solutions. Furthermore, it requires consideration of the context, process and outcome when designing climate resilience and adaptation programs. The context refers to a holistic perspective that is informed by indigenous knowledge, the culture of the community, ecology of the place, scientific information, global experiences and puts to use local materials and information. The process calls for root cause analysis to identify the underlying issues, build capacity of the community through participation and inter generational sharing to maximize equity, implementation of an integrated approach to enhance efficiency and establishment of a system for monitoring and learning to achieve the desired outcomes, that is, reduced vulnerability and exposure to climate change, enhanced emergency preparedness, effective early warning systems and well-coordinated responses.
Classification of community-based adaptation and resilience initiatives include livelihood diversification, capacity building, ecosystem integrity, infrastructure, microfinance and insurance and resource management. Livelihood resilience is the capacity of all people across generations to sustain and improve their livelihood opportunities and well-being despite environmental, economic, social, and political disturbances. Through livelihood diversification, communities can vary their agricultural practices to increase sources of income. Most agricultural activities in vulnerable communities are driven by seasonal crops that depend on rainfall patterns which have been affected by climate change. In response, farmers can switch their crop variety or strain to withstand the unpredictable weather conditions ensuring income. Environmental education and awareness creation in communities is vital to empowering communities and bolstering community resilience. In addition, leveraging the indigenous knowledge and practices of the community with new and emerging technologies through capacity building can result in innovative solutions to climate risks such as floating agriculture and rainwater harvesting.
Human activities have accelerated the effects of climate change. Through initiatives to restore the integrity of mother nature such as reforestation to reinstate carbon sinks and protecting riverbanks, nature’s ability to deal with extreme weather conditions such as floods and erosion is reestablished. Sustainable and adaptive infrastructure such as building dams, floodways, installing solar for farming, irrigation and cooking can also be applied. Through multistakeholder involvement, for example, the involvement of banks and financial institutions, loans and microinsurance to climate vulnerable communities can help insure them against the shock of climate change events and provide them with funds to diversify their income generating activities. Lastly, through protecting the natural resources in communities to provide natural insurance against climate risks for example, coastal communities can conserve mangroves to protect them against cyclones, coastal flooding and promote clean local water and soil sources.
The approaches identified have been applied in the following community initiatives. Mikoko Pamoja, a community led initiative that has created the first mangrove carbon market in the world uses carbon credits to restore and protect mangroves. So far, they have protected 117 hectares of mangroves. The Kuruwitu conservation & Welfare Association in Kenya established a locally managed Marine Area to ban fishing in a designated zone restoring the ecosystem. The Mali Elephant project since its formation in 2003 has created rules for local use of natural resources, set aside forests for elephant use, formed pasture reserves and designated seasonal water sources to be shared by people, livestock, and elephants. By offering sustainable economic opportunities to people in the region such as youth being trained as Eco-guardians and women encouraged to collect non-timber natural resources, economic independence is enhanced.
In conclusion, community-based adaptation and resilience efforts should be based on trust, transparency and mutual accountability with communities playing a vital role in decision making and implementation of initiatives. The initiatives should empower women, youth and other minority groups who carry unique perspectives and capabilities that will enrich the process and embark on efforts to address unjust systems that lie at the root of climate risks and challenges. This will ensure place-based, community-engaged, resource efficient, cost effective and sustainable responses to climate risks.