GRT Guest Blogger Hilary Lohmann, 2014 GFDD Fellow and Co-Author of Climate Change in the Dominican Republic: Coastal Resources and Communities
Climate change is happening. It manifests itself in many ways: extreme temperatures, both highs and lows; loss of typical seasonality; changes in precipitation causing droughts and floods; and increased frequency and intensity of storms. These impacts have, and continue to, contribute to social and political instability around the world. Not only is an issue of environmental concern, climate change a threat to human security. How society will respond to climate risks can be measured and assessed via adaptive capacity, which has been deemed the characteristic that is most important and most effectively addressed by policy.
Coastal communities are often integrated systems, composed of individuals with diverse livelihoods that both directly and indirectly rely on natural resources for security and well-being. Reliance includes for nutrition, for income, for safety (e.g. reefs and mangroves reduce storm surge impacts to a coastline), but also simply for a functional integrated community. When one type of livelihood or occupation, such as resource-dependent fishermen, becomes threatened, is there a ripple effect through an interdependent social system? In some sense, is an entire community at risk as soon as part of it is at risk?
I conducted a study in 2014 in coastal communities of the Dominican Republic to examine the potential impacts of climate change to people’s livelihoods and well-being by looking at vulnerability, the susceptibility to disturbances, and adaptive capacity, the ability to cope and respond to disturbances. Results showed two types of vulnerability characteristics: Flexibility and Security. Flexibility reflects how willing an individual is to adapt, and Security reflects how able one is to adapt.
Most of the factors characterizing vulnerability showed no significant difference among different coastal resident categorizations by livelihood and household structure. This agrees with the concept that communities are integrated systems with many similarities in their need and capacity for climate change adaptation regardless of differences in livelihood or household structure. It is therefore important to consider policies and programs that include different parts of a community, as they are interrelated and interdependent when viewed through a wider lens.
Certain groups did display greater tendency for vulnerability, however direct resource users, like fishermen, were more attached to their occupation, displaying lower flexibility and willingness to make changes to their livelihood. Individuals who are sole providers of household income showed lower security, indicating that those who are sole income providers might feel less able to adapt (e.g. change in occupation) because of a lack of alternative or supplementary sources of income in the home.
These findings have important implications for policies aimed at increasing adaptive capacity. Turning to direct resource users’ attachment to occupation, efforts that address coastal populations before and/or outside of these groups may see greater chances of success. Making a small financial safety net available to jumpstart alternative occupational initiatives and buffer from the risk of financial collapse or debt, may make a big difference to households who are interested in, but feel unable to, adapt by making changes in livelihoods.
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