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The new paradigm in adaptation

  • Published at 12:10 pm September 9th, 2020
Photo: Bigstock

Dissecting community-based adaptation for its strengths and weaknesses is crucial for success in locally-led adaptation

Global Center on Adaptation South Asia office has just launched on 8 September 2020 in Bangladesh. For the first time, Community Based Adaptation (CBA) conference (CBA-14) will be held from 21-25 September 2020 on a virtual platform. It seems adaptation will be a very hot topic in all upcoming climate change discussions. 

There is a very clear shift of CBA to locally-led adaptation (LLA). The Global Commission on Adaptation together with more than 75 partners launched a Year of Action to scale up climate adaptation solutions under eight Action Tracks where LLA is one of the tracks.

It is very important to understand the learnings of CBA so that we can have a smooth shift to LLA to make our vulnerable communities in becoming resilient in response to climate variability and change.

What is CBA and its challenges?

The aspirations of CBA to empower communities (enabling local people by capacitating them to design their plans, set goals and determine methods in response to the impact of climate change) to prepare for and respond to climate stress (climate variability and change). 

Ideally, CBA is a community-driven and led process where designing of adaptation practices are very much participatory (all sections of local society are involved), inclusive (incorporating diverse concerns, priorities, perspectives) and tailored to cultural context (Kirkby et al, 2014).

Problems with participation

It is mostly external institutional actors that legitimize and build public acceptance of pre-planned policies and interventions. As a result, true aspirations do not come up, as social capital inhibit people from coming together to make collective and democratic decisions.

While there are turbulent and corrupt political systems, the decision making hardly goes with solving underlying factors of vulnerabilities. Apart from decision making, addressing development deficits is requisite to address the strengthening of adaptive capacities. Moreover, lack of coordination and absence of collaboration between government agencies, NGOs and CBOs within the project timescale. Eventually, the mainstreaming and scaling up of local actions becomes very much unrealistic.

Problems with inclusiveness

The central premise of CBA is to implant a project within a community with a little understanding of what constitutes a community, knowing in reality that community is fragmented, hybrid, overlapping and activated differently (Rose 1999).

Without a clear perception of what constitutes a community, the project is likely to fail (Titz et al, 2018). A diverse set of beliefs, values, identities, power relation frame the communities as a loosely connected social and cultural entity. Community is thought to be a cohesive group of shared cultures, values, aspirations and goals. In reality- vulnerabilities, capacities, needs and priorities are different even within the community.

How LLA will be distinct from CBA?

LLA differs from CBA principally in two ways: Firstly, at geographical scale and secondly, the role of actors.

Scale consideration

Geographical scale is a set of communities and other important actors in a geographical location that make a local ecosystem.

When the concept of community is stretched out to a geographical scale where there are different entry points that can incorporate, as appropriate, elements of indigenous knowledge and ensure ownership of local people. When the entry point is not predestined by the construction of community and resources and planning decisions are well thought out, in the hands of different local scales, then local culture, local context, local dynamics, local resources, local knowledge and aspirations are an immediate currency that can be utilized (Ross et al, 2019). Local ecosystem approach can help us to define the geographical scale of local narrative.

Roles consideration

How the roles of actors need to be considered in different phases of the adaptation process to avoid failure of any adaptation project

Donors: Firstly, most of the projects fail operationally after post-implementation as donor set criteria of resources, infrastructure and experts need to be supplied from overseas (Ross et al, 2019).

Experts involve asking what communities’ needs are, flying out to design projects, flying in to implement projects. In this modality, communities are inevitably challenged to sustain once funding has ceased (Ross et al, 2019).

Secondly, targeting an only higher number of beneficiaries without considering local tension may trigger future conflict among communities. Providing pipelined water to a community with a higher number of beneficiaries from a pacific island state case, it shows that while the project ended it raised conflict between communities regarding distributing water that finally stopped getting water.

Implementers: In the implementation phase, one problem is that the visit by the implementers often involved rapid community assessments where needs are being identified and articulated superficially and hurriedly. They also go away to think about how to serve the community best, fly in and implementing projects. Communities only take the control of the projects at the final stage when everything is being set up. Implementers then pay individual or community members to run committees to sustain projects. But once funding ceases the person involved loses interest and the project starts to break down (Ross et al, 2019).

The example of compost toilets, a project from Vanuatu, is very instructive. The project was pushed in the Pacific to combat multiple water and sanitation hygiene (WASH) issues. Local misconceptions and fear due to traditional cultural practices led that project into failure, showing yet again that solutions from the top should not be the only way to address multiple problems.

Local actors: Among the local actors, there are elites. The projects’ benefits are often captured by their interests which inevitably proves detrimental to most vulnerable communities. Therefore, the existing inequalities can widen the previous gap. Planning out different actors (government and non-government) and their real interests around a project is a pre-requisite to succeed in any project.

Communities: Bringing communities to involve in project design and implementation is the entry point of delivering ownership of any project. This ownership should be built upon the project lifetime. Therefore, even if the project funding is ceased, it is carried out by the locals who actively participated and own it. The target of this engagement should be around increasing social capitals.

Beside communities, engaging local institutions (technical and non-technical) at the central of LLA would sustain the project or its benefits for a longer time period.

Individuals:  Individuals get interested in a project when they find the project is bringing some benefits at the individual level. If a project is designed to ensure building capitals (natural, physical, social, human), it will create interest and aspirations to make a project successful even from the individual level.

Prior to designing any locally-led adaptation (LLA) project, inter and intra communities’ inequalities (gender, asset, social, environmental, political, cultural) need to be addressed and identified in terms of resources and power structure (Ensor and Berger 2009; Nunn and Kumar 2018; Titz et al 2018).

Since LLA is emerging in the global context, without understanding CBA would lead us to the same failures experienced by CBA. And the distinction points between CBA and LLA demands very clear capacity building issue among the 5 very important stakeholders mentioned in this article. This knowledge capacity building will create the milieu in the adaptation projects to be sustainable and bringing out more benefits to most climate-vulnerable people.

Bangladesh is starting a new chapter in adaptation through the establishment of the South Asian Global Adaptation Center here. This is the right moment for Bangladesh to pick LLA and lead South-Asia by its successful execution in Bangladesh. For that, the appropriate consideration of the aforementioned geographical scale as well as actors’ roles would be instrumental in moving forward with adaptation.

Ashraful Haque is a system analyst. He has been working as Senior Research Officer at ICCCAD. Currently, he is coordinating a multi-disciplinary expertise group called FOREWARN Bangladesh.

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