on 10th September 2018

Solutions for the most vulnerable: How CARE is helping communities adapt to climate change

The 2015 Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs) capture the global commitment to tackling climate change, as well as gender equality, hunger, and malnutrition. The 2018 Global Climate Action Summit brings together leaders from around the world to take this “ambition to the next level.” This commitment to transformational change is facilitating action on the ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement. However, poor and marginalized rural communities who bear the brunt of climate-related natural disasters are still largely left behind by climate action, chief among them, women and girls.

In the United States, talking about climate change can be a controversial subject. To some, the evidence is in the fires that ravage California or the hurricanes that decimate entire cities in the Southeast. But still, climate change is seen as a political stance and not a scientific fact.

If you are a woman in Mozambique who walks farther and farther each day to gather water, there is nothing political about climate change. For a family living in the Hoar region of Bangladesh where raging cyclones take more of their farmland each year, climate change is a present phenomenon that, to survive, they must adapt.

Organizations like CARE have been working in communities across Africa, Asia and Latin America to help people adapt to and anticipate the effects of climate change. But helping communities adapt to a rapidly changing phenomenon takes effort at multiple levels with different actors. CARE works with the poor and extreme poor in 94 countries globally. In each country and community, our approach is to understand local needs, social norms, and capacities, and to build an adaptation strategy to meet those needs.

Predicting the Weather: Instead of asking how science can help communities respond to disasters, in Uganda CARE asked communities how they predict the weather. The reddening of the moon, the flowering of certain trees, ants lining along a path: all of these are signs that it is going to rain, be dry or extremely windy. CARE recognized that these indigenous signs were an entry point to cultivate adaptive practices. CARE worked with communities to identify and record the croaking of frogs, the whistling of kiwi birds and the patterns in the moon as predictors of rain or drought and its magnitude. Working with a local meteorology officer, CARE developed posters integrating indigenous and scientific weather to show that the two were actually speaking the same weather language. Earning the trust of indigenous communities to prepare for a climate disaster enabled CARE to introduce early actions like planting fast maturing and drought tolerant crops.

Planning for Change: Once communities learn to trust the climate predictions of the local meteorological office, CARE sits with them to consider climatic probabilities like drought or flooding and assess how these hazards will impact their lives and livelihoods. In Ethiopia, CARE used this conversation to work with the community to develop an agreement on plans and contingencies to respond adequately to different risks and uncertainties. Through this process, community plans are linked to local government responses and support, so that when a disaster strikes, everyone, from the youngest member of the household to the local government office in charge of disaster relief, knows how to respond to save lives and livelihoods.

Engaging Men to Help Women: Climate change adaptation and disaster mitigation strategies are often led by men. However, women are key agents in climate change adaptation as they have unique knowledge, lived-expertise, and perspectives. Including women in the decision-making process results in more robust adaptation strategies. CARE uses a tool called Social Analysis and Action (SAA) as a way for women, men, and community leaders to discuss how social attitudes and behaviors create challenges for adopting climate adaptation strategies, and how to address them. Through SAA, communities are challenged to see how behaviors like not having savings to offset a crop loss can contribute to their own vulnerability to climate change. Challenging communities to uncover these maladaptive practices that increase vulnerabilities, particularly for women who often lack the resources or decision-making power to adapt, can lead to equality in resource access and household decision making.

Planning Ahead: More than 1.3 million people in the dry corridor of Honduras are affected by severe droughts owing to rainfall deficits in recent years. As a result, there is limited water for human consumption and agricultural production, which in turn aggravates food security and poses negative consequences for the health of communities in this region. To help communities plan for drought, CARE has developed a cost-effective rooftop rainwater capture and storage system that can be constructed by individuals in their homes. The water stored by this system can meet basic household needs of a family of six for almost three months. Similarly, the water can drip-irrigate a 200-square meter garden for about half a year. This has enabled crop cultivation during dry seasons and ensured that rainy season crops survive during dry periods.

Helping poor households anticipate, adapt to, and prepare for the inevitable challenges that a changing climate has on rural farmers is creating a narrative on how to address climate change in these communities. Rural farmers have been adapting to nature for centuries. But what was once a 100-year flood, now happens annually. Taking deliberate steps to help entire communities see that change is happening more rapidly than ever before is how CARE helps combat the effects of climate change on the poorest and most vulnerable.

By Vidhya Sriram, Senior Technical Advisor for Research, Food and Nutrition Security, CARE USA

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