The disasters that hit the world in the last few years have served as a rude awakening for governments, businesses, and even communities to the cascading effects of shocks from natural and man-made disasters.
The world was still reeling from the economic impacts of Covid-19 when Russia’s troops invaded Ukraine, sending oil prices to soar through the roofs.
Climate change effects have further exacerbated the economic tolls of these disasters. Prolonged droughts across the US, Europe, Asia, and Africa have inflicted high economic costs on people’s livelihoods worldwide.
Climate change is happening now and is projected to get worse in the future. Leading to more adverse effects on all sectors, which makes climate adaptation crucial. However, adaptation initiatives should be done on a broad systemic level and ensure that the resilience delivered in one group should not worsen vulnerability in another.
A study, “Adaptation interventions and their effect on vulnerability in developing countries: Help, hindrance or irrelevance?” published in World Development Journal on May 2021, shows that many adaptation interventions lead to maladaptation in vulnerable communities. Researchers refer to marginalised groups as vulnerable communities in the study.
Maladaptation occurs when intervention produces the opposite outcomes when it reinforces, redistributes, or creates new vulnerabilities. In short, maladaptation occurs when interventions increase vulnerability rather than reduce it.
The study provides examples of how interventions can reinforce, redistribute, and introduce new vulnerabilities.
In developing countries, a phenomenon known as “elite capture” can reinforce vulnerabilities. Elite capture is a long-standing problem wherein powerful and influential people expropriate funds resulting in adaptation projects that further strengthen existing power or socio-economic inequalities.
In Nepal, India, and Tanzania, the relatively wealthy and influential community members monopolise benefits and manipulate new projects for political ends, withholding the benefits from marginalised or the most vulnerable groups.
An example of when an intervention can redistribute vulnerabilities is those relating to water and coastal projects.
In Vietnam, hydroelectric dams and forest protection policies that are aimed at regulating floods in the lowlands have simultaneously undermined the access of mountain people (considered the most socio-politically marginalised) to land and forest resources.
Another example is the construction of an Ecopark housing project in Hanoi, Vietnam, described as a sustainable living environment, which has displaced 4,000 families who had previously lived in the area.
An intervention can introduce new risks and sources of vulnerability. For example, the increased use of fertiliser and pesticides to improve agricultural yields can create risks to both human health and the ecological system. Another example is increasing farming irrigation, or farming can reduce water availability for domestic and other uses.
The study identifies the drivers of these maladaptive outcomes:
- a shallow understanding of the vulnerability context;
- inequitable stakeholder participation in both design and implementation;
- a retrofitting of adaptation into existing development agendas; and
- a lack of critical engagement with how ‘adaptation success’ is defined.
According to the study, there must be a shift in engagement between climate adaptation practitioners and the local populations participating in adaptation interventions to overcome or avoid maladaptation.
Secondly, there should be a thorough understanding of ‘local’ vulnerability to encompass global contexts and drivers of vulnerability.
For example, instead of designing projects to change the behaviour of the marginalised populations, it is more efficient to involve the community, learn their processes and integrate all this in the design of the intervention. The study says marginalised populations must be at the centre of adaptation objectives.
To read the complete study, please click on the link below.