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Climate Adaptation from Communities Most Impacted by Climate Change


Media attention focused on climate change should be redirected to consider how affected communities adapt to the changing environment around them. It is undeniable that parts of the world like sub-Saharan Africa, Bangladesh, the Pacific Islands, and the Philippines (to name a few) have been impacted especially hard by climate change. To better understand how to mitigate and adapt to the effects of rising temperatures and sea levels, we need to examine what, where, and to whom these changes are already occurring.


In sub-Saharan Africa, scientists project that the sea level will rise as much as one meter under a 4 degrees Celsius warming scenario by the end of this century. East Africa is at high-risk of flooding and concurrent health impacts and infrastructure damages. West Africa is expected to experience severe impacts on food production and threats to food security, including through declines in oceanic productivity. South Africa is currently seeing the strongest decrease in precipitation with concurrent risks of drought. Sea-level rise threatens densely populated coastal cities, where populations are predicted to increase and which will likely experience more immigration as a result of rural livelihood degradation.(https://www.climateanalytics.org/media/ssa_final_published.pdf


In Bangladesh, if the sea level rises three feet it would submerge approximately 20% of the country and displace more than 30 million people—but the actual rise by 2100 could be significantly more. Changing climate in Bangladesh has influenced what could become the largest mass migration in human history. Riverbank erosions have annually displaced between 50,000 and 200,000 people. The population of what the government in Bangladesh calls “immediately threatened” islands surpasses four million. (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-unfolding-tragedy-of-climate-change-in-bangladesh/


Five of the ten most deadly typhoons in the Philippines have occurred since 2006. One of the most effective protectors against the typhoons are the Philippine mangrove ecosystems. Mangroves mitigate the storm surge impact and help stabilize soil, but since 1918 they have disappeared by almost 50% nationwide due to deforestation. (https://www.24hoursofreality.org/blog/how-climate-change-affecting-philippines


So how have affected communities found ways to adapt to changes brought largely upon them by other countries? Floating gardens in Bangladesh, which prevent crops from being decimated during monsoon season; warning systems in Kenya that help local businesses to better prepare for floods; and A People’s Plan in the Philippines, in which residents in informal settlements design their own climate-resilient housing are all examples of ways that adaptation has manifested.


In Madagascar, enormous slashes in the earth called “lavakas” are both a negative combination of natural and human-induced factors and a space for potential growth. More specifically, a long history of slash-and-burn agriculture has rendered Madagascar’s once-forested highlands vulnerable to erosion and quite arid. The resulting destruction of habitat, loss of biodiversity, sedimentation, and continuous cycle of poverty present serious challenges for much of the country's highland communities. 


However, farmers have recognized that due to the formation of the lavaka, the structures can pose as natural funnels that channel water and nutrients to their base, resulting in rich and fertile soil. This practice of agroforestry has resulted in a developing, even prospering, ecosystem around this adaptive mechanism. (https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2013/10/17/scarred-hillsides-in-madagascar-may-actually-be-agricultural-gold-mines/)


In India’s Maharashtra state, a community of women farmers rejected the practice of growing only a few cash crops, which consistently failed their water-scarce region. Working with a local grassroots women-led organization, they decided to grow a variety of vegetables, millets and pulses – all of which are water efficient products that farmers can use to feed their families and sell for income. This agricultural transformation has led to an increase in harvest and strengthened livelihoods, leading hundreds of other farms in the area to adopt these practices. (https://www.wri.org/blog/2019/06/local-communities-arent-just-climate-victims-theyre-climate-adaptation-leaders


-Lula Zeid


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