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FKx 1: The linkages between disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation

This page shows the results of an experiment in collaborative knowledge generation, the Frontline Knowledge Explorer.

This page shows the results of an experiment in collaborative knowledge generation, the Frontline Knowledge Explorer. Collaborative knowledge generation is an excellent way to reflect on collactive experience. If you want to continue the discussion please type a comment in the comments section towards the bottom of this page, or why not start or contribute to a discussion in our Discussion Forum?


What are the key issues when thinking about how disaster risk management relates to adapting to climate change?

DRR actions tend to only focus on short time scales and on extreme events that considerably exceed people’s ability to cope with and recover from a set of conditions they experience at a point in time; while climate change adaptation in addition to this requires acting based on knowledge about changed conditions further into the future and the gradual, incremental changes in mean climate conditions that slowly make current practices less viable / successful / sustainable.

People are now starting to talk more seriously about migration as an extreme autonomous and/or planned climate adaptation measure, when adapting in-situ is no longer viable. This could be in interesting new point of entry into the DRR – adaptation discussion as the occurrence of disasters may be the ‘tipping point’, the event that precipitates autonomous permanent migration or results in the enforcement of planned migration if the risk of such disaster events occurring more often and/or more intensely is expected for the future or if the average conditions are becoming so unfavourable that common livelihood practices are not possible / too risky.

Climate change adaptation inherently involves uncertainty, because of the lack of precision possible about the timescale and nature of temperature and rainfall changes. DRR, in addition to being generally focussed on rapid onset disasters, is also usually about response and preparation to disasters with some kind of known periodicity. Climate change is causing disasters at unexpected times or intervals. Thus, adaptation involves coping with uncertainty and requires at the same time, increased access to information that can reduce uncertainty – information on weather forecasts, seasonal forecasts, and on resource management and livelihood options that have potential to reduce vulnerability under the changing conditions. [Rachber 14:34, 27 March 2009 (CET)]

Key actors

Who are (or should be) the movers and the shakers doing disaster risk management that factors in climate change or influencing policies on this?

In the case of Malawi, it seems a number of NGOs and faith-based organisations are leading the way on supporting local communities to address disaster risks that face them (particularly drought and flooding) and are starting to at least ask, and in some cases address, questions regarding how climate change will change these risks and affect response strategies. Three examples of this are, the Evanglical Association of Malawi (EM), the Red Cross and ActionAid. One of EM’s activities is working with a drama group developing messages on DRR and climate change. Similarly, the Red Cross is working with the Meteorological Service in developing videos in a participatory way, that convey messages about climate change to be shared between communities. ActionAid is supporting a number of local NGOs to develop adaptation pilots and replicate these where appropriate. Adaptation strategies being tested include catchment rehabilitation (e.g. channel dredging and planting grass to stabilize river banks) to reduce flooding and the promotion of drough resistant crops (e.g. sweet potatoes).

At the national level, the Malawi government is aware of the need to shift from a disaster response orientation to a disaster risk reduction approach that factors in climate change considerations (particularly through international pressure from funders), but still has some way to go in making this a reality. New levels of coordination between departments are being attempted (for example through the establishment of a Climate Change Task Force), increased financing for these types of activities is being sought, and there is a recognision that linkages between national government and District Assemblies, tasked with implementation, need to be strengthened. NGOs are increasingly vocalising the need they perceive for government to play a more active role in coordinating NGO activities by providing a clear vision and framework for DRR and responding to climate change. [Anna Taylor 17th Feb]

Who should be the actors?

People and institutions at multiple levels need to be involved. Those most affected by a disaster, the vulnerable communities, must be prime actors and agents in deciding how best to prepare for, and reduce future risks of, disasters. But they usually lack the resources and information to work alone. Local NGOs and local government are, in Practical Action’s experience, key stakeholders with communities in the preparation of local disaster management plans. In Nepal, this inclusive approach has been welcomed at district level. [1] [Rachber 14:42, 27 March 2009 (CET)]

Institutional segregation at the national level, between line ministries or government bodies responsible for DRR and CCA, continues to present challenges but increasing recognition of this and certain UNFCCC-related financing initiatives are starting to better facilitate integration. This may be through establishment of new agencies or departments, or simply improving coordination between them. For example “the World Bank‟s GEF/SPA Kiribati Adaptation Program, which has transferred responsibility for coordinated risk management in all sectors from the Ministries of Environment and Internal Affairs, to a new Strategic Risk Management Unit in the Office of the President”. Similarly, the “World Bank SCCF project in the Philippines focusing on climate risk management in agriculture and irrigation which also includes coordination between the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and the National Disaster Coordinating Committee in the Ministry of Civil Defense. [(Mitchell & van Aalst 2008)][2]

But such institutional transformations are only significant if meaningful citizen engagement in risk reduction activities is strong. Integration into ‘development’ has been driving both the adaptation and drr communities. New frameworks can be extremely useful in cases of challenging risk-enhancing activities by state and/or private actors, where deadlock may have been reached, or overt power relations are at play. In these cases, participatory vulnerability and capacity assessments followed by mainstreaming processes can be extremely valuable for building relations, trust, active engagement, communication channels and common language amongst different actors. Support beyond mainstreaming for more controversial contexts (i.e. related to natural resource exploitation or lack of recognised citizenship or land rights) should not be put to one side in the hope that successful mainstreaming will deal with them. Essentially whilst addressing risk and changing risk profiles under climate change requires new thinking, the opportunities this thinking, along with new financing and institutional mandates provides must be exploited.

Strategies and measures

What is being planned and/or done (or not) on reducing disaster risks in the face of climate change (examples from anywhere in the world)?

In Malawi there is evidence of more severe flooding associated with climate change, and so one activity that a number of NGOs are supporting is the planting of grass and/or reeds along river banks to stabilize the soil, reducing the extent of erosion during heavy rainfall events, and thereby minimizing the extent of localised flooding.


How is the above being done? What are some of the methods and tools being used in different contexts and why those?

[Unanswered during experiment]


Who is paying for the different components of this work? How might this change?

[Unanswered during experiment]


What are the stumbling blocks in doing this?

One challenge stems from the difference between an event-response (disaster) and resource-response (climate change). The two types of response overlap, but each brings different stakeholders, options and criteria for choosing actions. In some sense it is the shift between actions and strategies: what might be appropriate say for mitigating drought events might be maladaptation as agro-ecological conditions change (for better or worse!). Knowing when such strategy-shifts are required is part of the climate adaptation portfolio; just getting something done is a common mandate in disaster risk reduction. We tried to frame this issue some time ago, in a working paper for the Delhi COP (which one was that?) but have not made much progress beyond knowing it will be an issue. [Tom Downing 14:43, 20 March 2009 (CET)]


What can we keep doing, the same or differently? Where, if any, are the quick wins? What are the gaps ready to be filled?

[Unanswered during experiment]


Are we seeing a positive change from what is being done? How can we assess that?

Developing metrics for assessing the relative effectiveness of climate adaptation policies, programmes, projects is a new and emerging field of work. Much has done on this in the development sector, including extensive critiques; maybe there are useful examples of monitoring and evaluation practices from within the DRR community that could provide some important lessons.

Anything else??

Please add your own questions in the comments section below or start a new discussion on our discussion forums.

Next steps

Where do we go from here?

Suggested reading


Mitchell, T and van Aalst, M. 2008. [Convergence of Disaster Risk Reduction and Adaptation to Climate Change][3] a review for DFID

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