2013 Resilience Academy participants
Nadir explains how Bangladesh is threatened by climate change.
River and coastal erosion causes massive landlosses in many regions in Bangladesh.

Resilience Academies to connect climate change research, policy and practice

Natural disasters and climate change threaten the livelihoods of people in many regions of the world. They make successful development more difficult for the societies in poor countries. Without intact means of subsistence, social-economic advancement is hardly possible. This results in standstill or even decline. The first Resilience Academy in Bangladesh addressed this subject area.

In the most vulnerable regions of the earth, extreme weather events such as floods and droughts threaten the lives and livelihoods of the inhabitants. River deltas, small islands and coastal regions are endangered by erosion and soil salinity. Arid lands and areas affected by permafrost melt are also increasingly exposed to risk. The people in these risk zones will be the first to feel the impacts of climate change.
To foster the resilience of these people, UNU-EHS, ICCCAD and the Munich Re Foundation have created the "Resilience Academies". Their goal is to support new research and fuel the dialogue between the academic world, policy makers and development workers. From 15 to 21 September, 38 participants from 21 countries attended the first academy in Savar, Bangladesh, to discuss possible solutions. 

How can we offer those affected the prospect of a better future? What does resilience mean for people driven from their home by climate change or who live in the slums of large cities? What possibilities do people without property have to become more resilient if they are forced to relocate?

Case study examples presented by the participants from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, New Zealand and other countries demonstrated impressively that this is far from being a threat that lies in the distant future. Today already, grave impacts can be observed in many regions of the planet. Entire tracts of land have not only become unfit for agricultural use but are also uninhabitable. Frequently, it is people themselves who exacerbate the risk situation. Studies from Honduras have shown, for example, that the development of areas for tourism near coastlines and the expansion of palm oil plantations exert a massive impact on the water regime of the entire region. This gives rise to new risks such as coastal erosion and flooding.

Strengthening resilience – but how?
Preventative measures and early warning systems are one possible approach. Social and ecological systems do not reach a critical tipping point without showing signs of this beforehand. It is therefore essential to develop a better understanding of these early signals. New warning systems for sensitive factors such as crop failure, uninhabitability or erosion can contribute to the timely initiation of preventative measures. If, for example, work routines required to sustain livelihoods in a community change substantially and at the same time migration takes place in conspicuous dimensions, this is a clear alarm signal. There is a danger that basic provisions can no longer be ensured for the people who remain behind.

Traditional warning systems are often used for narrowly defined time periods to prevent a sudden loss event. These periods must be extended to warn of long-term risks as well.  The people at risk can then take action in good time. "However, classic early warning systems for natural catastrophes such as floods also make an important contribution to the safety of the population – if they are designed correctly," emphasised Dr. Moises Benessene from Mozambique, who spoke as an expert at the academy. They are an important step towards a more resilient society. His experiences in Africa could provide helpful insights for other regions of the world, stressed the director of the meteorological institute in Mozambique: "South-south dialogue is essential."

Health and migration
Migration and relocations are in some cases the only possible option. Is migration an emergency solution or an active adaptation measure? The answer frequently depends on how it is organised. If only a new infrastructure is created that disregards social relations and emotional aspects, this harbours the risk of the new community not being recognised as a new home. To establish a resilient new home, a socially intact environment must be created that takes the social structures of the migrants into consideration.  It is therefore helpful to integrate all the people affected into the planning processes.

The academy participants identified the core characteristics of resilience. During excursions into two exposed areas in Bangladesh, these theories were compared with the real situation: some 4,000 people live on an area of just 6,700 m² in the slums of Bhola and Balus Math in Dhaka. The population consists chiefly of migrants from rural areas of Bangladesh. Diverse push and pull factors have led them here. Deteriorating environmental conditions played a significant role. The second area of investigation was the village of Shibaloy Upazila in the Manikganj district. This is where two major rivers meet, with the result of frequent flooding and massive erosion. Houses are regularly swept away and land for relocation is scarce. This leads to stress.

Talks with the local officials revealed that there is no general strategy for increasing resilience. The solution must be tailored to the respective situation. However, research and experience from other regions can help to find appropriate approaches and instruments. The findings of the first Resilience Academy will be published shortly.

CB, 23 September 2013

Disaster Prevention

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