Wetlands International

Putting community resilience into practice - Initial lessons learned


Courtesy of Courtesy of Wetlands International

Partners for Resilience (PfR) is a collaboration of CARE Nederland, Cordaid, the Netherlands Red Cross (NLRC), the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, Wetlands International and 30 civil society partners in the global South. It is one of the biggest programmes of its kind in the world, working on ecosystem-based and climate-smart disaster risk reduction (DRR) in nine countries (see map below), reaching more than 400,000 people. As the programme is now at its halfway point, a wealth of initial successes and lessons learnt have been identified. Based on the PfR resilience vision of eight key principles, the partners have now gathered case studies that illustrate how this is currently being translated into practice.

1. Working on different timescales
By learning from past disasters, anticipating hazards in the present, and adapting to changing future risks, impacts can be reduced. In Kenya, newly-established Community-Based Disaster Risk Reduction groups mobilized pastoralists across a wide geographical area to prepare for the December 2012 dry season. Working together, they managed the grazing system with a seasonal timescale in mind, to ensure that enough pasture would remain for everyone at the end of the season.

In March 2013, when the long rainy season began, community groups turned their attention to short-term flood risk.

Communicating through a newly-established platform at the river-basin level, community organizations upstream of PfR project sites sent an early-warning message to alert those downstream when heavy rains had fallen, augmenting the traditional warning systems for flooding. Although some crops were lost, communities could report that this season there were no deaths or losses of livestock in the project areas.

For the future, the partners are now looking into a radio warning system for flooding, and methods to make agriculture more resilient.

2. Recognizing geographical scales
Climate change is global, yet its impacts are local; ecosystems care little for political borders, whilst river catchments are home to communities both upstream and downstream. Working across spatial scales – from a household to an entire watershed – can increase community resilience by taking into account risks that may not be directly visible at the village level, and ensuring sustainability of actions at the local level.

For example, in the Mahanadi Delta in Orissa, India, community-risk assessments were conducted in each of the PfR villages. The results were compared and analysis revealed patterns in the hazards facing any given geographical cluster: for example, most of the villages within the coastal cluster experienced hazards like tidal inundation, coastal storms, saline intrusion and erosion.

Taken as a cluster, coastal villages were given opportunities to jointly invest in landscape-scale ecosystem and naturalresource management projects, such as greening the coastline, maintaining river flow through removal of silt, and providing advice on better management of upstream hydraulic structures. If the interventions had been limited to village boundaries, they would most likely have taken the form of “community-confined” DRR, such as building concrete structures that reduce the intrusion of sea water or protect from cyclones. But these “hard” intervention techniques may have limited scope as they do not encompass the root causes of disaster risks such as ecosystem degradation. Additionally, other non-physical interventions to enhance resilience have been taken up jointly in the cluster, linking to policy processes and capacity building.

3. Strengthening institutional resilience
Changing institutional culture is one of PfR’s greatest challenges: for example, raising sufficient awareness to influence organizations to incorporate climate change and environmental considerations into their DRR and development work. However, change can take root through intensified dialogues with community-based organizations, local institutions and governments.

For this purpose, all local community-based organizations and NGOs relying on the lower Ewaso Ngiro River basin in Kenya were united into a common platform called the Waso River Users Empowerment Platform (WRUEP). The WRUEP has become the largest institution in Isiolo County and represents an area with a population of more than 143,000.

This platform has engaged the community in Early Warning, Early Action preparedness, and supported communitydriven development activities. WRUEP’s long-term aim is to strengthen the existing community system, rather than create a new one that will be short-lived and last only as long as PfR. Through the platform, contingency plans are prepared, members are trained in several DRR and development themes and joint activities are undertaken.

4. Integrating disciplines and approaches
To work towards increased resilience it is crucial to bring DRR face-to-face with climate change adaptation, as well as measures for the restoration and management of ecosystems, livelihoods, food security, and other disciplines.

In all countries, the first phase of PfR programming included new community risk assessments (CRAs) that ensured ecosystem and climate information was incorporated alongside more typical DRR techniques. This approach emphasized the importance of identifying underlying risks partners, stakeholders and communities need to move beyond addressing just the symptoms (the impact of hazards) of deeper-rooted problems that are, in fact, often socio-economically, culturally and politically embedded within communities.

In the Philippines, the partners agreed to view things through the lenses of climate change adaptation and ecosystem management and restoration, using three main tools: seasonal calendars; the historical profile of hazards; and risk and resource mapping. Previous risk maps tended to focus on hazards that occur in the present or near future. The risk maps conducted by PfR in the Philippines included information about risks in the past, present and future. By layering the three maps, the communities benefitted from the visual outputs and were able to see the changing nature of risks, such as current floods extending further than they did in the past.

The maps also demonstrated the resources available to communities, showing how valuable ecosystem management and restoration is for sustainable livelihoods and protection from hazards, for example, by identifying a forested hillside as a valuable asset in landslide prevention.

5. Promoting community self-management
Effective community self-management refers to empowered communities organizing themselves to be in charge of sustainably building their resilience without the need for direct assistance from NGOs. Notably women face substantial challenges in dealing with risk, so are a driving force for change in their communities.

In Ethiopia, partners are making headway towards breaking a “dependency culture”, in which communities receive food or money without the option of ownership or contributing to the sustainability of local activities. The PfR implementing partner, Support for Sustainable Development (SSD), works with communities, local leaders and pastoral women to raise awareness, and organize groups to create community action plans, and manage rangelands and water. Communities themselves identify hazards, vulnerabilities, and the capacity they have to deal with them. Women participate in all groups and awareness is raised on livelihood diversification through savings and credit groups, strengthening the skills required for cash saving and management for emergencies, and the activities have already begun to show a profit.

SSD provides follow-up guidance and savings and business plans for group members; it has stimulated women’s independence and financial insurance for future hazards. The money saved, for example, can go towards paying for food during droughts or investing in water harvesting infrastructure during the rainy season. In addition, women’s often family-oriented role means that resilience-building can begin to be nurtured in younger generations.

6. Stimulating learning
PfR aim to stimulate learning by combining local knowledge with scientific assessments, while using educational tools such as participatory video and educational games to raise awareness about DRR, climate change adaptation and ecosystem management and restoration.

In Guatemala, Mayan communities are supplementing traditional knowledge of weather and climate predictions by using small weather stations, all of which helps to improve their local warning systems.

During a pilot a pilot of the Upstream Downstream educational game in Nicaragua, participants from upstream El Chichicaste and the downstream community of Moropoto remarked on the importance of sharing risk- management strategies with each other, and in some cases acting collectively rather than pursuing individual decisions. Collective action during the game also boosted the confidence of players, which in turn was reflected in increased confidence in engaging in dialogue about ways to act for real. The ability to scale-up this game was key to its added value as a learning tool.

Interactive learning serves as more than a tool for raising awareness. It brings communities together, develops new skills in an engaging way, and enhances the capacity of beneficiaries to speak out.

7. Focusing on livelihoods
Acknowledging that disasters impact on livelihoods and that unsustainable livelihood practices can increase disaster risk is important. By implementing sustainable livelihoods initiatives that benefit from well-managed ecosystems and take a changing climate into account, the PfR hope to break this negative cycle of disaster.

Agricultural training was conducted by PfR Mali to promote sustainable farming. This training enhanced the knowledge and practices of farmers on the principles, methods and strategies of eco-farming, so they could engage in farming techniques suitable for a changing climate.

Participants became familiar with climate-smart agricultural techniques, such as: crop rotation; water and soil conservation; fallowing; erosion control; micro-dosing of fertilizer; food and fodder banks; and seed-protection techniques. They also learnt about the benefits of wellmanaged ecosystems such as floodplains with floating Bourgou grass and flood forests for cattle herding and fisheries. Through these techniques, agriculture can be adapted to climate change and important ecosystem services maintained to strenghten resilience.

8. Forming partnerships
Partnerships are vital for PfR to yield maximum impact. This requires partners to look beyond their own disciplines an strengths, which can often only address a single issue. Interorganizational learning across multiple disciplines should translate into longer term, positive impacts to increase community resilience.

An example of such partnerships is the collaboration between communities and local metereological offices in Uganda. There, most rural villages depended on local forecasting for weather and climate conditions. Village elders used their knowledge to anticipate possible climate scenarios in their area. However, this climate early-warning system began to lose credibility as the pattern of climate conditions started changing. At the same time, the national meteorology department analysed and disseminated climate early warning information to district administrative offices, but this potentially life-saving information was not reaching communties.

To rectify this so that communities were able to prepare, the delivery of climate information to end-users was facilitated, and forecasts translated into appropriate terms and local languages. Different media were used for further outreach.

For the first time in history, communities were in direct contact with local metereologists to discuss forecasts and identify actions based on this information. Creating innovative partnerships is thus key to strengthening organizations and the communities they serve.

What’s next?
The first phase of PfR has provided innumerable opportunities for learning. During an intensive review, the key principles have proven to be relevant for local partners and communities. The case studies in this document provide a snapshot of how the theory of resilience can be put into practice. We believe that resilience programming can be strengthened through further testing, discussion and learning.

Through innovative approaches in risk assessments and implementation, local communities can continue to build resilience for themselves. For true local ownership of this integrated approach, the PfR urge communities to market their own action plans to relevant stakeholders, for technical, financial and legal support.

PfR will continue to draw global lessons on building local resilience and scale-up what proves successful. Uniting and strengthening partnerships between communities, NGOs, governments, academic and research institutions and other stakeholders will be a priority to ensure effective resilience building becomes standard practice worldwide.

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