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Including local voices in assessing adaptation finance: testing an approach in Nepal

By Jonathan Barnes, on 8 May 2024

photograph of Nepalese hillside. Grass in foreground with bunting draped across a stone feature. Mountains in background
Hillside in Yamphudin in the district Taplejung of eastern Nepal.

Finance is central to international agreements on climate change. Developed countries channel money to developing ones to help fund energy transitions and adaptation to the impacts of climate change reflecting historical responsibility for the climate crisis. Money for adaptation is often spent on building awareness about climate risks, response capacity, and climate-proofing infrastructure. Policymakers have focused on assuring taxpayers that money is being well spent through metrics and management tools. There is a gap in making sure the funds meet the needs of people affected by climate change. This is the adaptation accountability gap.

To explore alternative tools for building local accountability researchers from Practical Action in Nepal and UCL’s Accountable Adaptation Project travelled to Naumile in Karnali Province, Nepal. Our trip was part of a wider research programme exploring how measurement and knowledge practices shape adaptation.

Locally-led adaptation: does the reality match the rhetoric?   

Donors, development agencies and multilateral funds and banks have committed to fund more locally-led adaptation (LLA). A top-down model is often less effective and efficient, excluding people from decisions that affect their lives and futures. Facilitating feedback to those channelling finance offers one way to build accountability, making adaptation more responsive to local needs.

The International Institute for Environment and Development, a UK based thinktank, has developed scorecards to record people’s experiences, providing a numeric assessment of project alignment to LLA. This has been piloted in Bangladesh, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Indonesia. These can help recipients to hold donors and intermediaries along the climate finance delivery chain (FDC) to account.

However, these do not meet the needs of the communities consulted. The pilots highlight the need to co-produce local approaches to secure meaningful and honest participation.

Our visit to Naumile was the first step towards this in Nepal. Naumile is a rural area in the Dailekh District of Karnali Province. The village has received money for adaptation projects since 2013 under the National Climate Change Support Programme. This channels money from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office through national and local government systems to fund locally identified projects. We wanted to understand how people felt about the existing local feedback mechanisms and sought to co-produce an approach for collecting and communicating feedback for this FDC, ultimately to achieve more effective adaptation to climate risks.  

photograph of a group of people sitting in a circle. Some are holding notepads. One person is looking at the camera.
Focus group with local committee involved in the National Climate Change Support Programme

How the Naumile user committee want to participate  

We met a local committee involved in managing the project in the community hall, next to a storm drain being built by the project. This group oversees project implementation and monitoring and evaluation. It consists of nine democratically elected men and women. The community members insisted any feedback and accountability mechanism must be deliberative and democratic. They were clear and unanimous that people should not be consulted individually, and that everybody should get their opportunity to speak – ideally directly to donors. Existing accountability processes such as public hearings and direct dialogues with local government are seen to be working well and could be built on for adaptation. The user committee participates in a monitoring and evaluation subcommittee that provides feedback this way, and the consultation suggested strengthening existing mechanisms. The committee also rejected quantification of their views. They felt this couldn’t capture the lived experience and can misrepresent their opinions.

Key features of the approach:

  • Build on existing feedback and accountability mechanisms; public hearings, grievance procedures and suggestion boxes
  • Democratic and deliberative focus groups, mediated by local facilitator. Everyone must be heard and opinions must not be reduced to numerical values 
  • Direct dialogue with government and donor representatives 
  • Outside support is welcome for facilitation, but the process must be transparent and result in tangible change and feedback from others. 

Time and power

Members of the user committee are happy to share views but want more transparency about how their feedback is used. Donors and intermediary organisations claim to be willing to respond to local inputs, but this has not translated into tangible changes. Without more feedback on decisions made in response to local consultations the committee members questioned if it is worth their time to keep participating. People have busy lives. Any accountability mechanism must work around busy periods such as harvest and the rainy season.  

We still don’t know whether people would be comfortable sharing their honest opinions about projects, even with a local facilitator. The incentives to maintain good relationships are clear. This could undermine the quality of feedback, and mask challenges. Those we spoke to reassured us that this would not be a problem, in turn highlighting a complex issue relating to the representation of the committee. Does this group represent everybody in the community? How does it intersect with local power dynamics? Members may have vested interests to report favourably, not reflecting wider community feeling. More generally, this governance structure might align well with the principles for LLA whilst consolidating power and resource access amongst a portion of the community.  

Way forward: from feedback to accountability

We have gained insights about collecting community level feedback to enhance accountability for LLA in Nepal. The co-produced method in Naumile needs tailoring for other parts of Nepal and researchers must be attentive to who’s views are included.

Bigger questions about accountability in adaptation emerged. Whilst people we consulted opposed the quantification of their views, the project’s impact is quantified in other ways. By rejecting the international language of numbers and metrics, the people of Naumile are marking their feedback as qualitatively different, rendering it difficult to translate insights to national or international spaces.

Taking a wider perspective, if local recipients report a project is working well, does that equate to accountability? Accountability is more than generating information or transparency, it requires that actors in the FDC act on feedback, leading to meaningful change. Being accountable to those most affected by the climate crisis means long-term change in the face of multiple and cascading risks. Individual success stories must lead to wider learning and behaviour change if we are to achieve this.


Jonathan is a critical human geographer interested in environmental policy, social transitions and sustainable finance. His work draws on post-structural theory to explore the effectiveness and equity of climate finance. He is a Research Fellow in Climate Change Adaptation on a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship, exploring the politics of knowledge in climate change adaptation. His PhD research, carried out at the London School of Economics (LSE), explored Green Climate Fund (GCF) project development in South Africa through a climate justice lens.


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s).

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Can we adapt through art?

By Aishath Green, on 11 January 2024

Image of a clapper board with climate change written on it in capitals letters.
Movie clapper with Climate Change text on red background” by focusonmore.com is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

When first writing this piece, London was in the midst of a late summer heatwave with headlines declaring the ‘unprecedented seventh consecutive day of 30C heat’. It struck my attention not just because of its abnormality for the time of year, but also because of my collaboration as part of UCL’s Performing Planet Activism Programme. The partnership between our research programme on the role of knowledge in adapting to climate change and the Wise Ram Theatre seeks to bring together scientific research and performance to develop a piece of work which responds to the realities of climate change.

Using theatre to adapt

Through their first production ‘Decommissioned’ written by co-director Molly Anne Sweeney, Wise Ram demonstrates how the severity of climate issues such as sea level rise might be conveyed to wider audiences. Taking the real life story of Fairbourne – a village on the west-coast of Wales whose council have made the decision to stop investing in its sea defences – the play imagines a narrative that seeks to convey the reality of a problem that could affect ‘10% of the world’s population that live in coastal areas fewer than 10 metres above sea level’. While discussing the play, Wise Ram’s other co-director Sofia Bagge tells me that the power of theatre is that it can take challenges that may seem abstract (both in their temporality and ability to comprehend) by relating them to our everyday experiences.

In ‘Decommissioned’, a flooding event causes an annual school camping trip to be cancelled and re-imagined inside the classroom. While seemingly a small disruption, Sofia states that by demonstrating how routine might be broken by the climate events we are more frequently confronted with, it becomes possible to address issues as catastrophic as sea level rise or extreme heat. She states that in order to make something compelling, you have to remove a lot of the detail because otherwise it could become too slow. Indeed, climate change research introduces ‘complexities, anxieties and new questions into many areas of life’. By conveying it through performance, however, Sofia remarks that directors have the power to take the audience on a journey and decide how an issue is spoken about or represented.

Memories

While performance has the capacity to help us understand complex issues through narrative and imagination, it also prompts us to remember and reflect. In the context of extreme heat and the increased frequency of related events such as forest fires, this can be fundamental in creating a collective memory around incidents that are easily pushed out of our minds or relegated to the past. The idea of collective amnesia is familiar – there are countless historical events that for various reasons people, communities and governments have wanted to forget. Moments deemed somewhat heroic, or worthy of remembering on the other hand, are repeatedly celebrated and platformed in plays, novels and cinema (World War II rings many bells). Yet, performance has a vital role to play in helping us to continually confront and reflect on urgent and traumatic events: ‘on stage, history is recalled to serve both the present and the future’. Re-imagining, re-forming and re-conceptualising the climate events that have already begun affecting us can ensure that the unusual summer heat is not dismissed.

However, the ways in which performance can choose to address climate related issues need not be so explicit. That is to say, addressing the climate crisis does not only mean ‘making work about climate change’. As Woynarski states ‘the problem-solution model, drawn on when theatre is utilised to ‘communicate’ specific ecological problems and ‘solutions’, often instrumentalises performance in a reductive way and largely focuses on content’. This approach she argues ‘does not leave room for the nuance, complexity or intermeshment of contemporary ecological issues’.

Communicating through performance

How might a complex scientific concept such as a climate niche’ be conveyed to wider audiences? The film Parallel Mothers by Pedro Almodóvar provides inspiration. Almodóvar addresses the violence and loss of The Spanish Civil War not by creating a story that centres on this past but rather through an ‘engaging melodrama plot’ about two mothers whose children get switched at birth. The narrative which encourages the audience to reflect on the war is less than a side plot addressing a ‘single victim of falange violence’. It is by no means a film about the Civil War, but through a carefully interwoven narrative that follows the protagonist’s journey to have her great-grandfather exhumed at what she hopes is his burial site, Almodóvar touches on issues of national loss that have led his film to be ‘characterised as an intervention … to reckon with the legacy of Franco and the Civil War’. What this conveys is the ability of storytelling to deal with certain issues, whether from our past or our present, in myriad formats. In the context of work that seeks to address the climate crisis, this enables creators and performers to bring it into ‘contact with any and all kinds of theatre’.

Yet while performance can be effective through its implicitness, the opposite can also be true and in certain contexts this may leave room for more obvious stand points on certain issues. In the recent film How to Blow up a Pipeline, the focus and content of the film is clear from the outset, its intent evident in the title. Following the lives of seven protagonists impacted by the effects of climate change, it depicts them working together to destroy the oil pipeline that they deem to be destroying them. Unlike Parallel Mothers, the film explicitly invites us to engage with climate issues, using the genre of a heist thriller to keep its audience engrossed throughout. While the film’s lasting impact on its audience cannot be certain, what it does do through genre is encourage its viewers to think in a different way. While the characters in the film are depicted as ‘eco-terrorists’, they are also the heroes of the story. Unlike the mainstream media’s treatment of Just Stop Oil protests, this Hollywood film thus allows its viewers to engage with direct climate action in a more sympathetic way. As the film’s director states ‘the idea of empathising with characters who take action like this without ever condemning them for taking it too far, is something I don’t see in the media’.

Looking forward

While we are at the beginning of our project with Wise Ram, the methods above make me hopeful about the possibility of conveying the topic of extreme heat and the wider themes of our research around diverse knowledge practices in relation to climate change. I look forward to exploring the ways in which we can communicate global temperature rise, the ways in which this will affect urban environments and the specific impact this will have on socio-economically marginalised groups. Through our work we hope to generate emotional and creative responses that can inspire action around these topics, as well as learn and evolve through engaging with different forms of knowledge that exist beyond the policy community. Whether through small and personal stories, or bigger productions, performance can take the climate events we are experiencing and ensure they remain present. Yet as the playwright Kristin Idaszak says, ‘there is no one play or playwright that can take on the immensity of this story. Instead, we need a canon of climate plays, from playwrights of all subject positions and aesthetics’… this could be one of them.


Aishath Green is Research Manager at the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction on the project Accountable Adaptation. This work was supported by a UK Research and Innovation Future Leaders Fellowship


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Human trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation: the ‘loss and damage’ from climate change a fund will not compensate

By Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson, on 13 December 2023

Jointly posted with the Conversation

photograph: a child's doll lies on the floor amongst brick and pebbles.
A child’s doll discarded during a storm. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Violence against women and children, including sexual abuse and exploitation, remains a taboo subject in the policy debates attended by international delegates at COP28, the latest round of the UN climate negotiations in Dubai. However, the connections between climate change and gender-based violence, including human trafficking, are real and already blight lives worldwide.

Countries at COP28 have agreed to set up a loss and damage fund which would pay poor nations for the irreparable harm caused by the deteriorating climate. How can we compensate non-economic loss and damage – the impacts of climate change that cannot be easily measured in monetary terms?

To answer this question, we must understand how these impacts already affect people in the world’s most vulnerable regions. By interviewing people in Bangladesh, Fiji and Vanuatu, we found that climate change is a trigger that can worsen, intensify or prolong the perpetration of violence and coercive control.

Entrapment in Bangladesh

Aerial photograph of the Bhola slum in Dhaka. Buildings with corrugated metal roofs in the foreground, surrounded by highrise flats in background.
Bhola slum in Dhaka. Most residents migrated from Bangladesh’s disaster-prone southern coast. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Among the girls and young women I spoke to in Bangladesh, child marriage was a common coping mechanism for the lost income and insecure food supplies associated with unpredictable weather.

Storms, punishing heat and unreliable rain made migration from the countryside to cities inevitable. Many migrant women and girls turned to work in the garment industry. In the factories and nearby dwellings, violence and poor mental health are especially common for female migrant workers.

Hunger has pushed numerous households to marry off their daughters and sisters. Belkis, a woman I interviewed, described how her family struggled with poverty and health issues during her childhood after they migrated from the southern coast of Bangladesh to the capital Dhaka, escaping cyclones and land erosion:

I got married when I was 12 years old. A few years later I gave birth to my first son. I faced a lot of problems giving birth to him … A woman from work was a doctor so she took me to Dhaka Medical Hospital. There they did some tests and noticed that my kidneys were failing.

Her sons may also need to leave school and start working. If she has a daughter, she may be forced to marry as a child. Harsh living and working conditions scar the health and wellbeing of entire families – but hit women and children hardest.

Child sexual exploitation and trafficking in Fiji

young boy pouring water over himself with a bucket.
Informal sanitation can be a safety risk. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

Unrest swept Fiji in 2021 after a ten-year-old girl on Vanua Levu, one of the islands in the north east, was raped by her uncle in a cyclone shelter. He was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment.

The incident was not an isolated event. Women we spoke to in Nadi, a city on Fiji’s main island, describe rapes in shelters and report children being trafficked for sexual purposes after the floods.

Overcrowded shelters create unsafe conditions. Many of the toilets have windows but no doors, let alone locks. Disaster evaluation reports also indicate that many emergency responders in Fiji lack necessary training to identify signs of abuse (sexual or otherwise) and so are unable to prevent further violence.

Lusi*, a Red Cross health coordinator, said:

Women are more vulnerable to violence in the wake of cyclones. In tents and makeshift shelters, there’s a lack of privacy and proper lighting, which makes it harder to stay safe.

Nasele*, a 22-year old woman that we interviewed in Nadi, explained:

In the dark [women] have to go out and this places [them] in unsafe conditions. In evacuation centres, women and children get exposed to sexual dangers – children’s rights are ignored. In this country, disaster management [offers no] quick recovery for women and children.

Nacanieli*, a Save the Children officer working in Nadi observed trafficking, sexual exploitation and violence:

The woman moved her family to Nadi to live with her new [Australian] husband. One year later, she returned to our office and told the SCF staff [that]…her new husband had moved the family to Australia and upon their arrival they were held captive in his house. She told me about the sexual exploitation of her oldest daughter (she was 14 years old at the time). …The woman was too scared to go to the police and lived in fear while in Australia. She and her children eventually fled the country with the help of a neighbour. The oldest daughter is now involved in prostitution in Nadi … We saw the scars of what looked like needle marks and cigarette burns on the woman and all four of her children.

In recent years, tourist hotspots such as Nadi in Fiji have seen a peak in child sexual abuse, trafficking and exploitation, primarily by perpetrators from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Europe.

Loss and healing in Vanuatu

photo of woman painting designs and letters and numbers onto another's arms with a tube of red paint.
Vanuatu’s woman-led recovery networks are a model for post-disaster mutual aid. Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson.

Women in Vanuatu found recovery and healing in their social networks, which stuck together and aided their recovery from cyclones and drought. The women ensured there was support for the most in need, such as widows and people living with disabilities.

Women and children may be more vulnerable, but they should not be seen as passive victims. In Vanuatu, ideals that are typically considered to be feminine traits – such as inclusiveness and caring for the weak – were strengths that supported the entire population’s recovery from natural hazards.

Research such as ours gathers local experiences of non-economic loss and damage. Despite this, few climate change studies apply similar people-centred approaches.

This is a problem because loss and damage is never entirely environmental. As well as the destruction of land, crops or livestock, loss and damage must come to include child marriage, sexual violence, coercive and controlling behaviour, human trafficking and exploitation.

By widening our understanding of what loss and damage means, we can support more people more thoroughly. We must all learn from the women in Vanuatu by caring for those in need and healing collectively from the trauma of climate-related violence.

Losses and damages to wellbeing and dignity can never be wholly measured and compensated within a market.

*Aliases were used to protect people’s identity.


Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson is Associate Professor at IRDR. Her research is broad and interdisciplinary with a particular focus on policy, intersectionality, and violence, as well as their overlaps with migration, refugees and trapped populations, trafficking or health and mental wellbeing.


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Unveiling the LERU Doctoral Summer School Experience in Heidelberg

By Aisha Aldosery, on 20 July 2023

Embarking on a journey of intellectual growth and cross-cultural exchange, I had the privilege of being selected as one of the fortunate outstanding PhD students from University College London (UCL) to attend the prestigious LERU Doctoral summer school. Hosted this year by the esteemed Heidelberg University in Germany, focusing on the concepts of intervention science applied to global challenges. In this blog, I will share my reflections on the summer school, highlighting its well-organized structure, enriching academic content, delightful hospitality, and the diverse community of scholars I had the pleasure of meeting.

Capturing moments from an enriching experience at the LERU Summer School. Photos by Aisha Aldosery.

The LERU Doctoral summer school impressed me with its meticulously planned program, covering a range of essential topics. We delved into the concepts of intervention science applied to global challenges, gaining a deeper understanding of how we can address pressing issues in our research fields. The sessions explored the complexities of climate impact research, shedding light on the challenges we face in mitigating and adapting to the changing environment. This comprehensive approach ensured that participants gained a holistic understanding of their research fields, preparing us for the challenges that lie ahead. The lectures were delivered by distinguished experts in their respective domains, providing us with valuable insights and sparking stimulating discussions.

One of the standout sessions was on the development of research ideas and the art of pitching research. We learned how to cultivate innovative and impactful research ideas, and more importantly, how to effectively present and communicate them to different audiences. The skill of pitching our research ideas is invaluable, as it enables us to capture attention, garner support, and generate interest in our work. We were guided through the process of crafting compelling narratives, refining our messages, and delivering persuasive presentations.

In addition, the LERU Doctoral summer school was an opportunity to interact with fellow PhD students from diverse backgrounds. The program attracted scholars from across Europe, representing various disciplines and research interests. This multidisciplinary engagement enriched the discussions and allowed for a broad exchange of ideas. Collaborating with individuals from different academic perspectives not only expanded our horizons but also nurtured a spirit of innovation and creativity.

Academic pursuits don’t have to be monotonous, and the LERU Doctoral summer school exemplified this belief. The program infused an element of excitement into the learning process, making it both informative and enjoyable. Beyond the lectures, the school arranged visits to the remarkable landmarks of Heidelberg and organised hikes activities, allowing us to appreciate the cultural and natural beauty of the region. These experiences fostered a sense of camaraderie among the participants, creating lasting memories and bonds.

The hospitality extended to us by the organizers and hosts in Heidelberg was truly remarkable. They went above and beyond to ensure our comfort and made us feel welcome in their city. Their efforts extended beyond academic matters, offering guidance on local attractions, cultural practices, and culinary delights. This warm and inclusive environment facilitated meaningful connections and encouraged cross-cultural exchanges among participants, fostering a truly global academic community.

The LERU summer school in Heidelberg provided an incredible platform for academic growth, cultural exchange, and personal connections. Its well-organized structure, engaging academic content, delightful hospitality, and diverse community of scholars made it an unforgettable experience. As I conclude my reflections, I am filled with gratitude and a renewed sense of purpose in my doctoral journey. I am eager to apply the knowledge and skills gained from the LERU summer school, and I look forward to returning to Heidelberg, a city that has left an indelible mark on my academic and personal life.

I am immensely grateful to the UCL Doctoral School for providing me with the opportunity to attend the LERU Doctoral summer school. Their support and funding made this experience possible, and I am truly indebted to them. Additionally, I would like to express my heartfelt appreciation to Christine Neumann who looked after all the participants, creating an amazing and welcoming environment for everyone. Special thanks are also due to the Institute of Global Health (HIGH) and the Center for Scientific Computing (IWR) for their invaluable contributions.


Aisha Aldosery is currently a doctoral candidate at the UCL IRDR Centre for Digital Public Health in Emergencies at University College London. She is also a researcher at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She earned her master’s degree in Software System Engineering from UCL. Her broad research areas are software engineering and the Applied Internet of Things. She is particularly interested in designing and developing digital health intervention tools such as surveillance and early warning systems. She is also interested in designing environmental IoT-based sensor devices and analysing sensor data using machine learning methodologies. The focus of Aisha’s PhD research project is investigating mobile apps, the Internet of Things (IoT) and sensing technologies for predicting mosquito populations to combat vector-borne diseases – a pertinent global issue with global research significance.

Reach out: Email| Linkedin


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Ahead of the 13th IRDR Annual Conference: Drawing Links Across Conferences

By Joshua Anthony, on 19 June 2023

This week marks the 13th year of the Institute for Risk and Disaster’s annual conference series, continuing a tradition that yearly tackles cutting-edge ideas in risk and disaster science. Covid-19, drones for health emergencies, why warnings matter—no stone is left unturned. Conquering risk demands a look at its wide-ranging constituent parts, from the global scale down to the minutiae of everyday life. But these challenges are often not isolated, spanning geographical, social, and political boundaries. What impact do borders, physical and metaphorical, have on efforts to tackle these issues? A day of discussion at IRDR will examine this, endeavouring to look beyond them, towards Risk Without Borders. In the same spirit, we traverse the temporal border, looking back at the 12th Annual Conference to draw links across conference themes. How do borders affect Climate change – Disaster Risk, Loss and Damage, or Action?

It’s hard to ignore the relevance of borders today when divisions of vulnerability and governance can often have more of an impact than physical geography alone on risk outcomes. A major challenge to tackling this is defining loss and damage, which as Lisa Vanh pointed out last year, could significantly differ across cultural and social boundaries. Timmons Roberts, who has done extensive research on climate negotiations between global north and south countries, raised the issue of equity, how developing countries need the assistance of wealthier countries to overcome the challenges of climate change. Though early attempts at this had failed with proposals in 1991 from Pacific Island nation Vanuatu, there have been promising developments since then. It highlights the barriers that exist between divisions of wealth and power that ultimately come down to borders, be that the invisible lines with which we delineate them, or the diminishing shoreline of a small island developing state.

As important as economics are voices. During her passionate keynote speech, Vanessa Nakate, a climate justice activist, described the risks of climate change that Uganda is already experiencing, and the challenges that activists from the most affected countries face in having their voices heard on the international platform. Perhaps nothing is more symbolic of the arbitrary constraints of borders than the visa application system and how this has prevented young climate leaders from attending UN conferences. As Nakate puts it: every activist has a story to tell, every story has a solution to give, and every solution as a life to change. Not only unique stories, but shared ones across borders are just as noteworthy, as Lucy Easthope, author of When the Dust Settles, explains when reflecting on the similar challenges experienced by both her, a UK expert in emergency planning and disaster recovery, and a midwife working in Myanmar, Sudan, and Bangladesh.

Examining discussions from the previous conference demonstrates that their individual themes should not be viewed as distinct boundaries. Even where there was no explicit mention of borders built within the itinerary and theme, experts could not avoid the limitations that they place on risk research and experience. No doubt, themes from last year will spill over to this one. See it for yourself this Thursday 22 June!


Watch last year’s annual conference on the IRDR youtube channel.


Thank you to Heghine Ghukasyan whose rapporteur notes helped immensely in writing this blog.

Humanitarian shelter and climate change: Is the shelter sector ready?

By Mhari Gordon, on 23 June 2022

Mhari Gordon is an IRDR PhD Student.


The ‘Climate Charter’ (launched in May 2021) was clear that the humanitarian sector needed to help people whilst being a part of the climate solution and increase its environmental sustainability. One year on, more than 200 organisations have signed the Charter, including several members of the Strategic Advisory Group of the Global Shelter Cluster. But is the humanitarian shelter sector ready? Welcome to the big question discussed at the 28th UK Shelter Forum (UKSF), co-hosted by Amelia Rule from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and Victoria Maynard from University College London’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction (UCL IRDR) in May 2022.

The talk of climate change and response has been ongoing for decades, as noted by UKSF speakers and attendees. However, the scope and way climate change is spoken about has evolved. As observed by Lizzie Babisterit is no longer one person in the corner talking about climate change – it is everyone”. Climate change is taking centre stage in all discourses within the humanitarian sector – as it should do – and appears to have become a driving force in breaking down the silos which have long existed between organisations and clusters (i.e., shelter, WASH, health). But what has become evident is that the shelter sector, like others, is not yet ready to be a part of the climate solution. So, what needs to be done?

Why must the Shelter Sector get ‘ready’?

Photo: Tilly Alcayna from RCRC Climate Centre. Photo by Ilan Kelman.

The 28th UKSF kicked off with two Keynote Presentations by Tilly Alcayna from RCRC Climate Centre and Paul Knox Clark from ADAPT Initiative.  Alcayna spoke of historical carbon emissions and responsibility for the climate crisis – how the vast majority lies with the US, Europe and the Global North. Even today, one American on average consumes as much as fifty Ethiopians. Therefore, reducing emissions needs to be targeted at those with excessive consumption, not the types of shelters provided to people in need. Alcayna emphasised that shelter and settlement types need to be chosen based on their suitability for the living conditions, including weather events and extreme temperature variations (the likes of up to 50’C surface temperatures), as well as health, wellbeing, and access to livelihood. Moving forwards more should be learnt from nature-based solutions, such as biomimicry and regenerative-by-design building. Also, research needs to identify current practices which are flexible, local, and adaptable that could be applied more widely. Alcayna urged for acting now with speed, scale, and scope, as ultimately, “the health of humans relies on the health of the planet”.

Photo: Paul Knox Clark from ADAPT Initiative. Photo by Ilan Kelman.

Knox Clark followed by painting the dreary picture of the climate breakdown, those who are and will be affected, and the subsequent challenges to the humanitarian system. Knox Clark stated, “We are now in an environment no human being has ever experienced before… For humanitarians, the consequences will be particularly stark”. He explained that humanitarians are responding to events which now have faster onsets, such as tropical storms that have developed in 24 hours instead of 72, as well as ‘new’ disasters such as extreme heat, wildfires, and glacial melting events. So, what does this mean for shelter? Knox Clark called for a fundamental shift in response. The humanitarian challenge is on the scale of disasters and migration, nature being less predictable with new types of crises and complexity, and contexts with higher levels of vulnerability, degraded environments, and increased securitization and domestic focus. Knox Clark advocated that the way forward for shelter is transformation via anticipatory actions, partnerships and collaborations, and supplies (materials, logistics, and skills) being much closer to the site of events. He argued that the sector has had a poor record of change, but to get ‘ready’ it needs to become more adept at responding to the changing conditions.

How can the Shelter Sector get ‘ready’? Which practices and policies?

In the final session, chaired by Charles Parrack, participants reflected on what the shelter sector needs to do to get ready. There were discussions on whether it is fair and acceptable to focus on carbon in the responses that support people who have made relatively insignificant contributions to causing the climate breakdown. Amelia Rule argued that the whole process from humanitarian organisations and their response should be looked at, not just the carbon emissions of the end-product provided to people in need. Especially as many countries who currently, and are most likely to, require humanitarian assistance have already met their carbon emissions and climate change targets. Magnus Wolfe Murray remarked that there are opportunities in well thought out, low carbon approaches for shelter and settlement responses. Such as solar panels that provide renewable energy and can unlock carbon credits and funding. This type of win-win scenario is the way forwards. However, the rationale must be rooted in meeting humanitarian needs while minimising local environmental impacts, rather than reducing carbon emissions of people in need. A current challenge for the sector is how these strategies can be scaled up and made more accessible, as well as sharing lessons learnt and good practices.

Discussions also centred around the need for greater emphasis on taking people’s needs and wants into account throughout shelter responses. Lizzie Babister shared that “the answers are with the communities that we work with.”. Humanitarians should focus on being facilitators and “need to get used to being a minor partner – be humble” as reflected by Jim Robinson. Many panellists and attendees were of the opinion that the phrases “Greening the Response” and ‘Shelter and Climate Change’ should be dropped and that the new focus be on ‘Climate and Shelter Justice’. A climate justice and people-centred approach can present opportunities for the shelter sector to improve collaborations; it can breakdown the silos across clusters, create partnerships, and potentially pull larger funds for both climate change and humanitarian work.

Phil Duloy concluded the day by giving credit to the hosts, presenters, and participants at the UKSF, as he highlighted that the discussions that take place here drive and improve the policies seen in the succeeding years. The shelter sector may not yet be ‘ready’ to be a part of the climate solution. However, it is evident from the 28th UKSF that there is neither lack of motivation and drive from the individuals who work in the sector, nor lack of thoughtful, brilliant strategies and roadmaps to get ready.


More details on the 28th UKSF (including videos of several sessions) can be found here: https://www.shelterforum.info/uk-shelter-forum-28-climate-change/

Photo: UK Shelter Forum. Photo by Ilan Kelman

 

Shelter and Climate Change: The Humanitarian Institute Evening Conference

By Evie Lunn, on 8 June 2022

Evie Lunn is a BSc student at IRDR.


This event, chaired by Lisa Guppy, explored whether humanitarian organisations are ready to be part of the solution to the climate crisis. The key debate was how to provide timely and principled assistance with minimal environmental impact. By bringing together panellists from a diverse range of humanitarian backgrounds, this event provided a forum where two crucial questions could be answered – does the shelter sector have the will and capacity to be part of the solution? And, more importantly, is the sector even prepared to respond to the impending shifts in climate?

Aditya Bahadur opened the discussion by identifying the key shifts that the shelter sector will have to contend with. Although it is no secret that extreme climate-related events are on the rise, it is also important to acknowledge that these events are increasingly occurring both simultaneously and across boundaries. Due to urbanisation and the hyper-densification of our social and economic networks, disturbance in one place can lead to disaster in another – creating a ripple effect of crises. One way Bahadur suggested that the sector should address these shifts was by reforming data collection and planning approaches. Existing methods of data collection have severe issues with certainty and specificity, and a fresh perspective on big data could form the basis for a more effective approach. Bahadur also suggested bridging the disconnect between local and national response and focusing more on adaptive management rather than hard infrastructure. Local, regional and national approaches need to be scaled-up and brought together, particularly regarding municipal planning which needs to be much more informed by residents in informal settlements. Streamlining humanitarian finance is essential if these novel approaches are to be tested and implemented successfully.

The next speaker was Amelia Rule, who emphasised the need to unravel the narrative that high-tech innovation is the solution to shelter challenges. Instead, we should look to what already works in the shelter sector – such as hosting, which has already played an immensely important part in the ongoing Ukrainian crisis. Focus on high-tech innovation often overlooks scale, suitability and adaptability in local contexts. While Rule acknowledged that innovation is important, she emphasised that the solution is to build on pre-existing expertise. Problems with shelter must be looked at contextually; there is no clear-cut, ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution that can be applied in all contexts across the globe. Rule also dismissed the prevailing sentiment that migration is inherently negative; the benefits of migration and hosting need to be promoted. Hence, migration must be reframed as a sustainable and even desirable method of coping with climate change rather than a last resort.

Magnus Wolfe Murray (left) and Kate Crawford (right) at the HI Evening Conference. Photo by Ilan Kelman.

Magnus Wolfe Murray was incredibly strong in his conviction that the shelter sector is woefully underprepared to cope with the changing climate. Some of the complications he discussed included the difficulty in determining when a person has migrated for climate-related reasons, given there are often multiple intersecting factors involved. For instance, a person may claim that they migrated for economic reasons because they could not find work where they lived. But upon closer inspection, it may become clear that they migrated for climate-related reasons because drought prevented them from earning an income via their agricultural work. Wolfe Murray also argued that while there is increasing talk about adapting the shelter sector for climate change, there is not enough preparation being undertaken in the field. Material supply chains, particularly regarding bamboo, are currently very weak and resources are being used in a way that is not sustainable, even in communities where humanitarian support is present. It has become undeniable that environment and landscape management are intrinsically intertwined with individuals’ homes and the shelter sector. Thereby, these two cannot be separated or viewed as a dichotomy.

The final speaker, Kate Crawford, built on arguments from the panellists and described how built infrastructures embed systems of privilege and bypass. She primarily discussed difficulties with investment in the shelter sector, including finding ways to get money to flow to risky projects. There is almost always a web of invisible confidence-inducing assurances that are at play when investors decide to spend money on shelter. The important distinction is that it is not risk that investors have a problem with, but rather unquantified risk. If we could measure how effective different shelter solutions are in an objective and quantifiable way, then investors would be more willing to commit funds to the cause. Crawford also suggested looking internally for solutions rather than always focussing our attention overseas. Measuring and retrofitting housing in the UK, for example, can be very beneficial for improving shelter policy and infrastructure.

The event concluded with a Q&A. Several questions from the audience asked whether there are any positive shifts in thinking when it comes to shelter-related solutions to climate change, and if humanitarian actors are ready to make this a priority. Panellists suggested that half the battle is for humanitarian actors to be reflective of their impact on the environment and hold themselves accountable, and we are already beginning to see this. However, there is not much evidence of sustainable solutions currently being employed at scale. Rule suggested there is also a risk that ‘greening’ the response is a tick-box, performative exercise that does not actually translate into real change. The humanitarian community needs to work together to have a collective front, rather than applying for different funding opportunities and experimenting with solutions in a competitive manner. The will for change is there, even if we are not seeing this change being enacted on a large scale. Despite Wolfe Murray’s concern about the scale of seismic change that is approaching, and the unprecedented migrant crisis that will most likely follow, he still believes there is reason for hope. An example he gave was the great success in restoring fertility to the Loess Plateau in China. This shows that the tragedies which arise from climate change are not inevitable and there are models that already exist which can rehabilitate damaged eco-systems. Overall, the shelter sector is not yet ready for the challenges ahead, but if the humanitarian community works together to overcome these issues, then perhaps the future will not be as bleak as our panellists have predicted. It was evident from discussions amongst the panellists and attendees that systematic change and transformation is possible if we act together, and we act now.

The event was live-streamed and you can watch the video here on the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction YouTube channel.


Evie Lunn is a BSc student at IRDR. Contact at: evie.lunn.21@ucl.ac.uk

Climate Hazards in the Northern Bolivian Altiplano

By Bayes Ahmed, on 14 July 2021

Written by Dr. Ximena Flores-Palacios, a Bolivian independent researcher and practitioner in sustainable development.

Tuni Condoriri Glacier. Photo: Leny Chuquimia, Página Siete.

The Northern Bolivian Altiplano is one of the most affected areas to the impacts of climate change and disasters. Vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities are the ones most at risk from climate hazards and are, in many cases, marginalized from socioeconomic progress. In order to prevent climate change and disasters from having further devastating impacts, it is necessary to close the development gaps that leave communities at risk. Without urgent action, climate change and disasters may push people deeper into poverty.

This region is located to the West of the Department of La Paz and covers an area of approximately 20,000 km² with a population of 2.5 million people (including the cities of La Paz and El Alto). A large part of this region is influenced by the presence of Lake Titicaca and the glaciers of the Cordillera Real mountain range. The altitude of the region ranges from 3,000 metres above sea level in the inter-Andean valleys to almost 6,500 metres above sea level in the peaks of the Cordillera Real, which is home to most of Bolivia’s glaciers.

The Northern Altiplano is particularly vulnerable to climate variability and the adverse impacts of climate hazards that threaten communities and ecosystems. The region is already experiencing not only increases in temperatures but also changes in rainfall patterns and the water cycle. This, in turn, will have consequences for biodiversity and high-altitude wetlands. Besides, the region is exposed to different threats such as changes in the precipitation regime, frequent droughts, hailstorms, frosts, and snowfalls.

The most visible impact of climate change in high mountain regions is glacier retreat. The IPCC reports that Andean inter-tropical glaciers are very likely to disappear in the coming decades, which will negatively impact water availability in the region. In addition to global increases in temperature, the greater frequency of El Niño in recent decades has contributed to rapid glacial retreat.

Pressure on water resources in the region is already high, with an increasing demand for domestic consumption, agriculture, and dams. Therefore any future changes in the hydrological cycle will have significant implications in the region. This aspect is crucial as the cities of La Paz and El Alto draw on water from several surrounding glaciers, and together these cities form a fast-growing metropolitan area that is home to more than two million people.

Aymara people have adapted to climatic variability and changes in their environment over centuries. In the process, they have developed essential knowledge about the local climate and the environment, and they have domesticated numerous crops that are vital to ensure food security around the world. People have lived subsistence lifestyles for a long time, and for them, there is nothing new about adapting to harsh conditions. What is new, however, is the extent of the changes and the effect these changes are having on an increasing number of people. Even though families have had generations of experience in creating mechanisms to cope with such variability, the impacts of these climate hazards are affecting them disproportionally and threatening their culture.

Rural people in this region rely on natural resource-based livelihoods. They are engaged in high-altitude agriculture and livestock, and the communities around Lake Titicaca also partake in small-scale fishing. Families keep and store a part of their production for their own consumption and sell the rest. However, frequently and due to poverty-related causes, farmers have to sell their produce which in some cases affects their food security. Non-farming activities and migration are risk management strategies that also help to diversify income.  Human mobility due to climate change has been rising in the last decades, as some people move in anticipation or adaptation to environmental and climate impacts, and others are displaced due to extreme events. 

Rural livelihoods are highly vulnerable to climate change and disasters in terms of agriculture and food security, water supply, biological diversity, the environment, health, and infrastructure. This vulnerability is worsened by (i) very low levels of investment in climate-responsive agriculture, (ii) inequalities in land tenure, with the exacerbation of smallholdings as land continues to be divided resulting in the overexploitation of soils and vegetation, (iii) high dependence on climatic variables in agricultural production, with the majority of farmers without irrigation systems, who depend on rainfall, and are highly susceptible to hailstorms, frost and snowfalls; (iv) accelerated agro-ecosystem degradation processes, and (v) water pollution by mining, industry, and solid waste.

Despite the enormous challenges associated with poverty, environmental degradation, climate change, disasters, and now the effects of COVID-19, people in the region are making every effort to thrive in their own environment, and to build the resilience of their communities to climate and other shocks. For these people, resilience is rooted in traditional knowledge, as their capacity to adapt to climate change and disasters is based on an in-depth understanding of the environment, social organizations and networks, and cultural values and attitudes.

Rural people are responding to climate change and disasters in unique ways:

  • To cope with climatic variations, people change and adjust their livelihoods. They diversify productive activities and continue to improve plant varieties and animal breeds, which provide a buffer against risks in uncertain environments. The ability to access multiple resources and rely on different land-use patterns contribute to their capacities to manage climate change at the local level. However, farming practices may also be forced to change as a result of reductions in water availability due to less rainfall and melting glaciers.
  • Traditional weather and climate forecasting are still used by Andean communities to make decisions on the management of their farming system and climate change adaptation. However, the intensity, frequency, and extent of climate impacts are challenging people’s traditional knowledge. It is necessary to promote community disaster risk management and early warning systems to mitigate the negative effect of climate change.
  • Traditional systems of governance and social structures are in place, and strong community networks are crucial for community resilience to climate changeLocal organizations together with municipal governments are central actors in territorial development. Public policies must ensure that climate action is designed in a participatory manner that enables the participation of indigenous communities and other marginalized groups. 
  • People are using migration as an adaptation strategy. There are high levels of internal migration from rural to urban areas of the country and international migration, especially among men and youth. Rural areas are populated by women and older adults who face difficulties in terms of access to land, reduced productivity, fragmentation of land tenure, and the effects of climate change, further increasing vulnerability. Although migration is now a new phenomenon in the area, climate change seems likely to become a major force for future population movements, probably mostly through internal migration, but also to some extent through international migration.

Although Bolivia is making progress towards sustainable development, the impacts of climate change and disasters remain serious problems. In order to address these challenges, it is necessary to deepen understanding of climate change vulnerability, adaptation, and mitigation in the Northern Altiplano and to enhance the adaptive capacity of Andean communities.

Leveraging traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction policies is not only essential, but it is key to increasing the resilience of communities facing the impacts of natural hazards and environmental change.

In addition to health impacts, COVID-19 threatens to further affect the livelihoods of Andean communities dependent on agriculture. Investment in rural agriculture is needed to help people become more self-reliant, mitigate the impact of severe events and increase the resilience of communities.

Acknowledgement: This blog article is part of the project “Climate change and migration in times of COVID-19 in Bolivia” supported by UCL Global Engagement Funds 2020-21. Special thanks to Alejandro Mamani and Cloe Barbera, the research assistants of this study.