Preliminary findings

The research project ‘Courting catastrophe? Humanitarian policy and practice in a changing climate’ analyses experiences from six countries: Ethiopia, Kenya and Zambia in Africa, and Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan in South Asia, in order to identify the potential and limits to humanitarian interventions building sustainable adaptation. 

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In order to avoid courting catastrophe by indirectly contributing to the perpetuation of longer-term vulnerability processes, new thinking around the links between short-term responses to emergencies and longer-term sustainable adaptation is required. The following paragraphs present preliminary findings from research on this topic in six countries.

Climate change continues to affect people in the pastoralist Afar region of Ethiopia, particularly women, children and elderly. These vulnerable groups face malnutrition resulting from inadequate animal products consumption due to the loss of livestock and extreme temperatures. Moreover, the workload of women increases due to the adverse effects of climate change on their households' vulnerability. Although there are governmental and non-governmental aid agencies aiming at addressing short-term humanitarian needs and long-term adaptation strategies, there is poor coordination among the aid programs resulting in uneven distribution of support.

In the Humla region of Nepal, climate change affects households differently depending on wealth, social status and networks. Social structures and power relations are key drivers of local vulnerability patterns and even reinforce the existing vulnerability patterns by deepening the dependency and inequality between households with access to power and those excluded. As a result, chronic food insecurity is part of a larger context where various factors interact. Traditional food aid may contribute to maintain status quo rather than challenging the local power structures that drive household vulnerability. Therefore, food aid may indirectly impede the enhancement of food security in the longer term.

Although there have been significant changes in the framing and aims of humanitarian interventions in Kenya, there are still significant gaps between how humanitarian aid is targeted and the factors that drive vulnerability to climate change. In Siaya county, the change in humanitarian approaches means significant potential for supporting adaptation, but also that challenges remain in practice at both local and program levels. In Isiolo county, preliminary findings suggest that there has been a significant shift in approaches across humanitarian actors towards longer-term concerns and resilience. However, in practice, interventions are to a large extent carried out as before. The case study suggests that in order for humanitarian interventions to support adaptation, there is a need to address structural, political-economic barriers to change.

In Pakistan (Baltistan, Swat, KPK, and Sindh), there is confusion among humanitarian actors in understanding the driving forces behind climate change and its complex repercussions on people's lives, the ecosystem and infrastructure. This confusion makes it difficult to know how to best respond to climate change and where to build the capacity of local people and government institutions for better adaptation, mitigation, response and management. This may result into short-term interventions rather than long-term thinking on how to reduce people´s vulnerability and strengthen longer-term adaptation processes that could lead to more robust livelihood development.

In Sundarbans of Bangladesh, there is a significant reduction in mortality from cyclones and people´s concern is not mainly major hazards, but rather daily life problems. The hypothesis is that the reduction in mortality is due to preparedness and prevention. The delta areas are affected by sea-level rise associated with global warming. This may potentially displace millions of people and contribute to loss of assets, livelihoods, and infrastructure in the long-term. Eventually, the poorest of the people maybe trapped in the risky areas thus the need for humanitarian organizations to perhaps address the immobility issue.

In Zambia, the Red Cross Crescent Climate Centre´s action research on Forecast-based financing for climate risk management (FBF) and Participatory Games for learning and dialogue led to interactions with key stakeholders in the humanitarian donor landscape and the development of a framework for engaging the most vulnerable in observing and submitting rainfall and river level data. The activities are to also promote policy and advocacy that support decision-making, which will give agency to those most at risk and build resilience at the community level. The prototype game? UpRiver? has helped vulnerable communities understand the need and value of flood warnings and the people were eager to turn the simulated experience into real-world action.

Notes on preliminary findings from Ethiopia case can be found here: 

Published 6. October 2014 - 16:28 - Updated 1. December 2016 - 11:46