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The missing links

  • Published at 11:48 pm July 12th, 2017
The missing links
“Think global, act local,” as goes the proverb in climate change and the development world. This implies that large-scale transformation can only be achieved through actions at the root level and hence, communities need to be mobilised towards adaptive actions against abrupt climatic stressors. So Community Based Adaptation (CBA) is now a widely prescribed solution to manage risks emanating from climate change -- be it agriculture or food security, health, water and sanitation, education, or livelihood challenges. There are many small or large initiatives (projects), labelled as CBA, undertaken all around the world by different actors. However, questions have been raised as to how or to what extent the CBA projects are “community-based” in true sense. While acknowledging that there are some best practice models in CBA projects which are commendable and worth to be widely followed, here, let us examine the missing links which should have been integral parts of CBA by its very definition. Firstly, engaging community with new ideas are absent at times because some of the innovations are designed and introduced without proper community consultation. It is not necessarily that the innovation is bad per se, but the objective remains unfulfilled without community ownership.
We must recognise that CBA is essentially a rights-based approach where all interventions and actions should be guided by the principle of not to hurt people’s rights and opportunities to live a balanced-prosperous life as well as doing no harm to the ecosystem
In order for us to make the innovation acceptable to people, it is important that CBA is planned and implemented in combination of indigenous knowledge and modern innovation. Being at the frontlines of responding to climate change impacts, communities are often equipped with effective solutions to address them. In a project undertaken for building resilience against cyclonic disaster in coastal Bangladesh, appointed experts developed a modular housing model which is scientifically very sound. The consultants talked with the community at the beginning but did not talk with them all through the designing phase. When introduced to the model, the community was hesitant to accept the innovation. The design was revised according to the community’s feedback and the idea was parked for the time being, but the implementers lost precious time and effort in the meantime. However, they finally got it right. While individually indigenous knowledge and innovation can be either useful or irrelevant, collaboration between them can bring sustainable solution most of the times. Secondly, the much talked-about perpetual complex relation between poverty-reducing development and reduction in vulnerability to climate change makes things even harder to mainstream adaptation, especially Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EBA), for the practitioners. Yes, they are intrinsically related but may not be synonymous all the time. Poverty reduction may not necessarily reduce vulnerability of the poor to climate stressors and not all climate-adaptation projects automatically reduce the vulnerability of the poor.  We have experienced the former in the escalation of shrimp-farms and in destruction of mangroves in coastal Bangladesh, which actually aimed to generate income for rural people. They resulted in higher vulnerability of poor to cyclone, storm surge, and salinity intrusion. We cannot expect impoverished people to maintain ecological balance unless they are offered with alternative climate-sensitive livelihood options. Our experience with the latter, eg large water sector adaptation project taken forward without considering local communities’ needs, have caused increased susceptibility to groups who are dependent on watersheds in some cases. Still we see funding for infrastructure-based projects, but not any for community-based projects from bodies like Green Climate Fund (GCF). We also do not see much of a flexible funding mechanism where donor agencies encourage essential adjustments in projects in consultation with community, when needed. This is a financing debate, though, and also a major impediment in localising adaptation. Thirdly, scaling up of the best practices is another missed opportunity which is a result of both poor knowledge management and resource constraint. Many of the innovations and best practices are confined to certain community -- in Africa, for example, many effective agricultural adaptation interventions are practiced by big farmers while the smallholders are generally unable to adopt those because of financial limitation. If agricultural CBAs do not reach the small farmers who produce four-fifths of the developing world’s food, can we term those as CBAs in real sense? Fourthly, knowledge management, ie capturing community-specific CBA learning and experience is largely absent which is crucial for contextualising innovations in different settings. Randomised controlled trial (RCT) should be initiated at the beginning of new projects so that comparable evaluation can be produced for future references. Again, when it comes to innovation, involving expert consultants with a view to bring sustainable solution in combination with local knowledge may be required but it should emphasise including local (national) experts, unless otherwise the required capacity is absent. The recently launched Least Developed Countries (LDC) Universities Consortium on Climate Change (LUCCC) can play a crucial role in adaptation-focused capacity-development at national level in developing countries. Finally, the international framework agreements (Paris, Sendai, SDG’s etc) have hardly reached grassroots level. They are still mostly at the table of policymakers, academia, scientists, and high-level practitioners. There is no Bengali version of these key documents as yet. Local government budget has least reference to these global commitments. This however, does not mean that nothing is being done -- a lot of the things are going on in a top-down approach. But these gaps need to be addressed to ensure coherent implementation at local level. Setting agenda for CBA policies and strategies at national and international levels should be based on prior discussion with wider communities. We must recognise that CBA is essentially a rights-based approach where all interventions and actions should be guided by the principle of not to hurt people’s rights and opportunities to live a balanced-prosperous life as well as doing no harm to the ecosystem. This can only be achieved by engaging the vulnerable community, acknowledging their and the local experts’ expertise, financing in appropriate sectors, and maintaining the delicate balance between development and reduction in vulnerability to climate change, when we design and implement CBAs. Let us believe resonation of localisation will become meaningful for communities rather than being confined in conference rooms.   Mrityunjoy Das is a Senior Programme Manager for Disaster Management and Climate Change (DMCC) Programme at BRAC
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