The road to climate resilience

Enabling rural communities to draw up action plans aimed at enhancing resilience to climate-related hazards through sustainable management of natural resources.

It can start in any rural community

Data collection from wheat fields in the Bahir Dar area near Lake Tana and the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. Photo: Maheder Haileselassie / IWMI

Rural communities across the developing world face growing pressures from climate change impacts and other problems associated with unsustainable agricultural practices, water pollution and the overuse of aquifers. These communities urgently need to build adaptive capacity, so they can thrive, despite the mounting odds against them. As outlined in a new set of project briefs (listed at the end of this article), the journey towards resilience can begin now, right where rural people live and work, leading to results that complement much-needed investment from national governments, the private sector and international aid agencies.

This was the key premise of a project carried out during 2015-2017 by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Working in Ethiopia and Ghana, the project team developed and piloted a simple protocol for enabling rural communities to draw up action plans aimed at enhancing resilience to climate-related hazards through sustainable management of natural resources. The project took place in the framework of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE), with support from the CGIAR Fund.

The project’s first action was to examine the wide array of tools already available for assessing resilience in rural communities. By and large, these were found to lack a development perspective; they are geared more to helping restore the post-disaster status quo than to turning these shocks into opportunities to overcome poverty and vulnerability.

Project researchers next studied current policies in Ethiopia and Ghana to support building resilience at the community level. According to the results, both countries show a growing understanding of the dire consequences of climate shocks for rural livelihoods, and are enacting laws and policies designed to address these problems through better natural resource management. Even so, the countries are at different stages in fostering community participation. While Ethiopia has supported the development of community-based action plans for many years, Ghana has begun more recently to involve communities in efforts to reduce their vulnerability.

Focusing on two pilot watersheds in each country, the project team carried out two assessments to characterize the watersheds. The first encompassed a wide variety of factors – from the climate and hydrology to farming systems and population pressures, while the second dealt specifically with water quality.

With a wealth of information in hand, the project team then embarked on a series of community dialogues, two each in Ethiopia and Ghana, involving farmers, local government officials and other experts. The team made special efforts to involve women and young people. The dialogues revolved around six modules designed to lead in stepwise fashion toward a better understanding of (1) local livelihoods and (2) natural resources as well as (3) the likely threats and climatic shocks to these, followed by the identification of (4) potential coping strategies and (5) key actors in their implementation, culminating in (6) an action plan that details roles and responsibilities together with resource requirements.

These modules form the main components of the community workshop protocol, which can be completed in just 2 days, once at least some of the necessary data have been compiled. Having been developed in two contrasting contexts, the protocol can readily be adjusted to fit diverse settings.

During its final months, the project held roundtable meetings in both countries with policymakers, other government officials and representatives from nongovernmental organizations. The participants recognized the value of the project’s facilitated process, backed by comprehensive analysis, for raising awareness and building capacity in rural communities.

Project summary brief

On the road to resilience: A simple protocol for supporting community-led management of natural resources

Project brief

Developing pathways to climate resilience through the sustainable management of water, land and ecosystems

Discussion briefs

Community workshop modules

Sustainable management of water, land and ecosystems for resilient communities: Community workshop modules

Related Articles