'From mudslides in the mountains to failed harvests caused by drought, Uganda is really feeling the impacts of climate change,' says Bernadette Kabonesa, Senior Research Technician at The National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NaFORRI). To help her country become better prepared for climate-related disasters, Kabonesa recently took the course 'Managing risk in the face of climate change' delivered by the Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation. 'I want our communities to become resilient. This requires managers of change: people who will get to the core of the problem to develop an effective plan, and who know how to spur the right people into action.'
Kabonesa: 'If I've learned one thing, it's that you don't make plans for the community. We should always make plans and take responsibility together, for climate adaptation, disaster management, resilience building and for vulnerability reduction. Because surely the people who live in risk-prone areas understand their problems better than anyone else! Interventions that are chosen democratically by the local communities and stakeholders are more often adopted than those imposed by external decision makers.'
Mauricio Cote, one of the other participants of the course, takes the idea of responsibility a step further. 'You have to empower communities,' he says. 'Those who live in high-risk areas must go beyond expressing what they need and want, and be able to push for decision-making at a higher level so that the government cannot ignore their issues. As a climate change specialist of a Colombian ENGO – Fundación Natura – I'm in a privileged position. We're seen as an independent non-partisan stakeholder, which means I have leverage at every level, from the community up to the national government. At the top of my action plan is the organisation of workshops with both the community and the government in order to establish concrete agreements on climate and environmental policy and actions.'
This is exactly what Ingrid Gevers, the course coordinator, wants to achieve with her programme. She wants to equip people with the right tools to respond to climate change and prepare themselves for the impacts of climate-related disasters, but she also has a clear mission. 'If you don't act, nothing will happen. Participants of the course discover that by changing the way they work, they can make a real difference. For example, I also train them on how to mobilise people and communicate more effectively. How else can you take your story forward and make a difference?'
The importance of collaboration goes beyond individual course participants, who mostly work at an operational level. 'People who work on climate-related disasters are often working from within their own silo and their own regional, national or international framework and approach,' says Gevers. 'They either work on climate, or on disasters. The two fields do not really find each other, which is strange, because many disasters are climate related. They can learn so much from each other! Say there's an increased risk of flooding in a particular region and you want people to be able to take refuge. If you build shelters from materials that are not resilient to the changing climate you might as well not bother.'
Blending government ministries
At the global level, Gevers sees the two areas of expertise slowly converging, but considerable steps will still have to made to achieve improvement at the national and operational level. For example, climate experts often work at the Ministry of Environment while disaster experts sit with the disaster management authorities. It is good that more and more countries, including Pakistan, the Philippines and Vietnam, are working proactively to integrate expertise and to bring climate change adaptation and disaster risk management departments together. According to Cote, this is happening in his country too. The Directorate of Climate Change in the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development used to work exclusively on climatic mitigation and adaptation issues; now it has been renamed as Directorate of Climate Change and Risk Management and will work in coordination with the National Unity for Disaster Risk Management. It's a work in progress, but the government recognises the importance of integration.
Both Kabonesa and Cote say they have gained a lot from the course. 'As well as gaining an understanding of risk analysis, setting priorities and using planning tools, we also strengthened our personal skills, such as how to develop and present your ideas,' says Cote. 'Those things provide a foundation to build your plans on, and that's particularly important when you're working with different cultures. It was a really active form of learning.'
Course: Managing Risk in the Face of Climate Change
'Managing Risk in the Face of Climate Change' is one of the courses offered by Wageningen University & Research on this theme. Gevers has been teaching the two-week course since 2013, together with Thai and other Asian partner organisations and experts. The course is a mixture of theory and practice. The first week focuses on concepts, underlying theories and analyses of the situations in the areas that the participants work in. 'Everyone needs a basic understanding of the concepts we work with,' says Gevers. 'For example, what is disaster risk management? What is the difference between climate and weather? When do you achieve resilience? Then we look at the information already available to us and we assess the risks and vulnerabilities of the case study areas. The second week focuses on practice: what will you do to make the hotspots and vulnerable stakeholders resilient? Participants work in small groups to come up with a planned approach and they present that to a panel, which leads to valuable discussions and feedback.'