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In seeking to situate the vulnerability of local communities in Lesotho within the wider framing of dynamic vulnerability and adaptive management theory, we have conducted an analysis of local users of ecosystems services and institutional bridges and barriers for the preservation of wetlands areas (Bharwani, 2007). The Highland communities utilising ecosystems services illustrate complex aspects of social vulnerability, particularly as it has changed over time in ecological, institutional and economic terms. The dynamic vulnerability and resilience of socio-ecological systems are explored in the case of a village in the Mohale Dam catchment area of the Lesotho highlands.

This is done using the six attributes of vulnerability. The method applies a holistic perspective to try and address the complexity and uncertainty inherent in such systems and the potential pathways of transitions to resilience and sustainability or to decline and degradation.

Woman carrying water (only available between 6am and 10am) from the tap to her house (photo: Sukaina Bharwani)

It is important not only to explore how dependent local livelihoods are on ecological services provided by the wetlands, but also to assess how vulnerable they are to the complex combination of stresses that they deal with on a daily basis. Current analysis shows that water management cannot take a sectoral, single stressor approach without the danger of perpetuating or even exacerbating a range of existing problems, but rather needs to be integrated and adaptive to address the multiple and complex changing stresses that are faced daily. The success and sustainability of such intervention measures will be contingent on a full understanding of the root causes of vulnerability and the potential impact that different development pathways may have on this vulnerability at other levels. Will social and ecological vulnerability be reduced or will new vulnerabilities emerge? Will there be ‘surprises’ which certain interventions cannot account for and are contingency plans in place for this? Are thresholds of vulnerability and resilience different at different scales of analysis and will an intervention at one level cause unexpected results at another?

Bharwani, S., Shale, M., Taylor, A., Matin, N., Downing, T.E. CAIWA 2007: International Conference on Adaptive & Integrated Water Management. Coping with complexity and uncertainty. Basel, November 2007 Integrating social vulnerability into water management in the Lesotho Highlands.

Downing, T. E., Aerts, J., Soussan, J., Barthelemy, O., Bharwani, S., Ionescu, C., Hinkel, J., Klein, R.J.T., Mata, L., Moss, S., Purkey, D. and Ziervogel, G. (2006). Integrating social vulnerability into water management. Oxford, Oxford: Stockholm Environment Institute.

Liu, J., Dietz, T., Carpenter, S.R., Alberti, M., Folke, C., Moran, E., Pell, A.N., Deadman, P., Kratz, T., Lubchenco, J., Ostrom, E., Ouyang, Z., Provencher, W., Redman, C.L., Schneider, S.H., Taylor, W.W. 2007 Complexity of Coupled Human and Natural Systems. Science 317, 1513-1516.

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