Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Harald Sterly

Harald Sterly

Harald Sterly is the Project Coordinator for the TransRe Project. He is a human geographer with a specialization in spatial and social aspects of migration, urbanization, and technological change. He has conducted field work in Bangladesh, Thailand, Kenya, Somalia, and Guatemala. He has published widely on issues at the intersection of environment and migration, including co-editing "Adaptation and Migration. Bringing in the Region" (Palgrave Macmillan).

Apr 13th 2016 by Harald Sterly

Evidence-Based Adaptation: Stories from the Field on Strengthening Community Resilience in the Mekong Delta

The Mekong Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change (ARCC) project, focuses on identifying the environmental, economic, and social effects of climate change in the Lower Mekong Basin, and assisting highly exposed and vulnerable rural populations in ecologically sensitive areas to increase their ability to adapt to climate change impacts on water resources, agricultural systems, biodiversity, ecosystems, and livelihood options. Activities were piloted in 5 rural communities in Northern and North-Eastern Thailand, in Central Laos, in Central Cambodia, and in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam.

The project covered a broad range of activities and featured a linking the scientific discourses and knowledge on regional climate projections with local perceptions of climate change and villagers’ priorities regarding climatic factors. Through a participatory community visioning and planning processes, priorities for action were identified, and implementation included agricultural activities, such as fish breeding, improve water management, water saving techniques, new animal and crop varieties and new agricultural practices, but were extended also to organizational issues, such as setting up maintenance groups and establishing market linkages. All the projects were evaluated as largely successful, both by community members as well as by external experts.

Climate change concentrates to a large extent on mitigation, with less than 10 percent dedicated to adaptation"

Climate change adaptation is still in its beginnings – with climate-related funding to a large extent concentrated on mitigation, with less than 10 percent of total climate funding dedicated to adaptation in 2015

The picture, however looks differently, when only climate-related development finance is taken into account, where funding dedicated to adaptation makes up 26 percent.

The funds from global facilities such as the Green Climate Fund (GCF) or the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund (AF) are being built up – and currently amount only to a tiny fraction of the estimated annual climate change adaptation needs. The structures, however, through which these funds are and will be made available for non-state actors, who are doing community level adaptation work, the “Implementing Entities” or intermediaries, are still in the making in many countries, including in Southeast Asia. But sometimes things are emerging quickly, and we might in the nearer future also see private actors, for example pension funds or insurance companies investing more and more of their assets into adaptation measures on all levels.

Second, adaptation must and will be a multilevel process, involving many actors and their joint action on many different levels, from global, national, regional and community level, including households and individuals.

Adaptation must be multi-level, and it’s crucial to get the regional policy level in early"

Second, adaptation must and will be a multilevel process, involving many actors and their joint action on many different levels, from global, national, regional and community level, including households and individuals. It is and will be a major challenge of successful adaptation strategies to align the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) with other sectoral plans on different administrative levels and finally with the community level. When designing successful community adaptation projects, that show the experience of ARCC, it is crucial to take into account the priorities of the NAPs and to bring in the national and regional actors (e.g. extension services) into the process at an early stage. On the other hand, knowledge and experiences of the community level must also be transported to decision-makers and the higher policy levels. NGOs and other actors with long-standing experiences in community work are, as evidence shows, more successful in implementing sustainable and participatory measures on community level then are higher-level, national or international actors  - because they often have good access to and trust relations with communities.

Improved household and community life is a core contribution to social resilience"

Most likely, successful adaptation projects might not look very different from “old school” development projects for community well-being and livelihoods improvement – as improved household and community life is a core contribution to social resilience.

However, climate change adaptation must go beyond that in three points at least: a) communities need to be aware of changing climate conditions and that long-term and, even more important, continuous adaptation is necessary; b) innovation also in the form of new practices and technologies will become more important; for instance, new crop varieties or animal breeds, new soil and agricultural practices, water management and saving technologies; this could mean that in future the corporation of science and community (the local “coproduction of knowledge” will be getting more important); and c) that adaptation will be an ongoing process, which will not be “done” once adaptation activities have been implemented, but that this process has to continue for several generations.

And third – that might be the most important point from the TransRe project – that migration is missing:

Migration can contribute to, but possibly also undermine resilience"

For some of the projects, especially in Cambodia, (out) migration was a factor that was interfering with participatory community activities due to the absence of community members during some of the activities. However, the ARCC project approach did not include migration as a factor. From my point of view, migration is important in several ways: first, migration and the translocal connections it entails, can potentially contribute to household and community resilience and adaptive capacities. Second, migration might also undermine household or community resilience, when the number of absentees reaches a critical threshold or social cohesion in the community is disrupted. And third, the concept of a bounded (let alone coherent) community is challenged by the notion of multiple translocal connections, linking the households and community to a variety of places and socio-political entities.

Image Credit: Global Landscape of Climate Finance 2015, Climate Policy Initiative 2015. under CC BY-SA 3.0 // Fields in the Mekong Delta region, David MCKelvey under CC BY 2.0 // Boat on the Mekong, Akuppa John Wigham under CC BY 2.0 // Mekong Delta 1966-70, manhhai under CC BY 2.0