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How a Coconut Becomes a Shield Against Climate Change

Tom Grubisich's picture

Indigenous Peoples have been contending with destructive weather like cyclones, flooding, and drought for centuries -- as the development community has sometimes belatedly discovered.  Nine of DM2009's winners are projects that tap into that special know-how to help indigenous communities survive the increasingly destructive weather that climate change brings.

Indigenous know-how is invariably practical and low-cost -- like the winner from Samoa.  That project would build three traditional Samoan houses -- called fale, for "open house" -- as models of "safer, accessible, resilient, and sustainable housing."

Here's how a fale is built, as described in a fascinating story on the East Asia & Pacific website of the World Bank: The structure is "lashed and tied together with afa -- an organic sennit rope. Afa is made by twisting together the fibers of dry coconut husks. The lashing work is traditionally done by elderly men while women make the thatch for the domed roof of the fale – either from coconut palm leaves or sugar cane."  (Photo after recent rain shows 80-year-old Pousea, ceremonial house in Samoa that was restored by DM winner Afeafe o Vaetoefaga Pacific Academy of Cultural Restoration, Research, and Development two years ago.)

DM2009 to Help Indigenous Grassroots Grow in Siberia

Tom Grubisich's picture

The 40 Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East in Russia endure one of the world's most hostile environments.  But it is man, not nature, that threatens the very existence of these communities, which have dwindled to about 250,000 people who live in sometimes besieged camps and villages sprinkled across the vast frozen landscape from the Barents Sea to the Pacific Ocean.  (Photo credit: EALÁT.)

Deforestation, industrialization, and flooding from hydropower drive Russia's Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral homelands.  Illegal fishing, poaching, and the auction of fishing grounds deprive them of their livelihoods.  Russia's Indigenous Peoples are, theoretically, protected by federal laws, but advocacy groups say there's no regulatory force to the laws.  The collective plight of the communities is grim evidence behind those arguments.

Leading the fight to put teeth in the laws is the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North (CISPN).  Its tenacious struggle, which has won it some legal skirmishes in Moscow and at international forums, has now earned it one of the 26 awards given at the Development Marketplace 2009 competition.  The $200,000 award will go toward a grassroots project that will help indigenous communities leverage their traditional knowledge with contemporary techniques of communication and advocacy that involve engaging all stakeholders.  The goal is a "climate strategy" of adaptation that will finally lead to real, enforceable protection of Russia's indigenous communities.

CISPN Director Rodion Sulyandziga, proudly holding his crystal globe after the Nov. 13 awards ceremony in Washington, said: “It’s a great day.  I’m very proud.  The most important thing is the Indigenous Peoples’ voice is heard in Siberia and everywhere.”

And then it was back to Moscow for Sulyandziga -- to map the Center's new grassroots fight.

Africa and Adaptation: Many Needs, Too Few Projects

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The economic -- as well as human and environmental -- costs of adapting to climate change will hit developing nations hardest -- none harder than those in Sub-Saharan Africa.  New World Bank projections have adaptation costs carving out almost 7 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa's gross development product annually between 2010 and 2029.  That's more than double the cost projected for Latin America and the Caribbean, and more than triple the cost to GDP that would be borne by developing countries in other regions.  Yet only 16 of the 100 finalists in DM2009 were from Africa, and only three of them -- from Burkina Faso (anti-desertification), Ethiopia (anti-drought), and Nigeria (anti-drought) -- were among the 26 winners.

Below, from left, photos of winners from projects in Burkina Faso (Thomas Granier), Ethiopia (Mohammad Ehsan Dulloo), and Nigeria (Nnaemeka Chidiebere Ikegwuonu).

Of all the adverse impacts of climate change in Africa, the worst is drought.  Already faltering food production in the region could fall by 16 percent long term because of more frequent and intense drier weather, according to recent projections.  If that happens, Africa would be even further from meeting its Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty.

With most of Africa's food grown by small farmers, most adaptation projects to protect the farmers against climate change will have to start on a small scale.  The implications are as certain as the outlook for drier weather: Africa must become the center of many more projects like the region's three winners at DM2009.

World Bank and Adaptation: The Need to Think Small

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A  revealing interview at DM2009 was the one of Ian Noble, a top World Bank expert on climate change, and member of the World Development Report 2010: Development and Climate Change team who was also a DM2009 juror.  Noble was questioned by Habiba Gitay, Senior Environmental Specialist at the World Bank Institute, about the big development projects that the World Bank has traditionally fostered and financed and the micro-sized, early-stage or seed projects (up to $200,000 in value) that are part of the Development Marketplace competitions. Noble's answers underscored how the Bank, in responding to the destructive impacts of climate change on the people and natural resources of developing countries, is increasingly thinking small about adaptation projects.

"Ultimately, adaptation is going to be carried out by individual people, households, small communities," Noble answered.  "So one of the challenges of the World Bank is to shift out-sourcing to that level.  This is a huge, rich body of information flowing into the World Bank from Development Marketplace, especially in the case of this [competition].  With the tension between community-based adaptation and adaptation funding at the national level, a bridge has to be built [between the two]."

 

New Indigenous Fund Has Local Focus -- Sound Familiar?

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Days after climate adaptation projects aiding and led by Indigenous Peoples won nine awards at the DM2009 competition (Nov. 10-13), the worldwide indigenous community took a major step toward becoming a key player in the international climate change debate.

First Peoples Worldwide, with the help of the World Bank's Social Development Department, is setting up an Indigenous Peoples Climate Action Fund in part "to strengthen the capacity of Indigenous Peoples’ communities to influence decision-making and to engage in dialogue on climate change at the national and international level."

The US$10 million Fund will also finance small-scale adaptation projects in indigenous communities, and then seek to scale them "across communties, regions, and countries" -- the ultimate goal of many of DM2009's early-stage finalist projects.  The new Fund aims to use indigenous communities' traditional knowledge to launch projects that will buffer the poor and vulnerable against the impacts of destructive weather, conserve their sensitive environments, and improve faltering local indigenous economies -- also the objectives of DM2009 projects.

At a Nov. 18 roundtable in Washington announcing the Fund, World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick offered several examples of how the knowledge and experience of Indigenous Peoples are proving successful in blunting the worst of climate change.  In parts of Africa, he said, plantings of Red bush tea can survive the drier climate.  In Vietnam, plantings of dense mangroves protect the coastline from the waves of tropical storms.

Innovation Needs More Than Money to Succeed

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Innovative adaptation projects, like those featured at DM2009, hold enormous potential for blunting the adverse impact of climate change in developing countries, while also helping to reduce poverty and build social value.  But to achieve their potential, these projects have to be scaled.  Money is important for projects to get beyond their early or seed stage.  But money alone isn't enough -- as already succcessful project leaders emphasized at the Nov. 12 DM2009 panel "Taking an Idea to Scale" (photo at right: panelist and competition juror Anne Marie Moeller of Humana People to People India).  To succeed, panelists emphasized, innovative projects also have to be firmly planted within their communities, understand local needs, find partners with whom they develop solid cooperation, and be supported with staff who are both dedicated and skilled.

 

To help put all the pieces together and effectively link adaptation to development on a scale of broad replication, the World Bank Institute is, among other things, reshaping itself as a "knowledge broker" that connects projects with the right people and institutions within the development community as well as with governments.  Aleem Walji, the WBI's new Innovation Practice Manager, talks about this in his mini-interview below, as well as in his introduction to the "Taking an Idea to Scale" panel (video link above).  There are more details in this WBI statement about the the new strategy under Institute Vice President Sanjay Pradhan.

 

Aleem Walji on Development Marketplace

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Aleem Walji is the new Innovation Practice Manager at the World Bank Institute, which includes the secretariat for the Development Marketplace consortium and other innovation platforms.  He is former Head of Global Development Initiatives at Google.  The peripatetic Walji sat down for this mini-interview as DM2009 was winding up:

Q. Development Marketplace stresses innovation, both in projects it seeks and how they're evaluated.  Why is innovation so important?


A. The need for solutions, and fast, is urgent.  Business as usual is simply not sufficient.  We’ve got to look at new ways of doing things -- things that have worked in one part of the world that may work in another part of the world, or are entirely new.  We put out a call to the world, particularly the developing world, to say what are your ideas, what are you doing, what can you do? How can we support you, adapting to a rapidly changing climate? This competition was to shine a light on those ideas.

Q.  We hear a lot about scale.  What does it really mean?

A. Scale is a term often used and misused.  When I think about scale I think about a pathway to reach the maximum number of people possible.  It doesn’t necessarily mean an organization has to become extremely large for an idea to scale.  It could mean that an idea is adopted by a small organization but relevant and replicated by other groups in other parts of the world. When I think of the Development Marketplace, we want to get to the point where we can connect early-stage ideas to the people, money, and partners who can help see ideas through to execution and grow them to their optimal levels. 

Q. What factors are important for success? 

A. In many ways we’re really betting on leadership, we’re betting on people who we think are going to deliver an outcome, and are going to be flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances.  The projects will change, they will adapt, they will grow.  What we’re really talking about is how do we position our winners to be able to benefit from our support, then really leverage it, along with partners.  We want to be connectors in an ecosystem.  We want to be connectors in a cycle of growth and scale.

Q.  Most of the DM2009 projects came from NGOs and academic institutions.  There weren’t very many from entrepreneurs...

A.  This is a little bit of concern to me.  When you look at the viability of any project it has to have a pathway to sustainability, and commercialization is one pathway. When there are ideas that can be commercialized and have revenue models that can be sustained, that is a very positive sign.  For those that don’t, there have to be other paths to viability like public-private partnerships for example.  For those that don’t have one or the other, I worry how they will sustain themselves.  That's where partnerships becomes key and our role in creating an "enabling ecosystem" of seed funders, debt financiers, equity players, and capacity builders is very important.
 

Blogs, Other Sites Follow the DM2009 Story

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DM2009 has been drawing attention from climate-change-related and other blogs and websites around the world.  In "The Dirt," published by the American Society of Landscape Architects, web content and strategy manager Jared Green -- who was also a juror for the DM2009 competition --  published this post about some of the winning finalists. Green's post was picked up by the Sustainable Cities Collective blog.

Some of the attention came from abroad -- the site the Austrian Network for Information and Communication Technologies for Development and -- in France -- Actualités News environnement.

Climate-L, which is produced by an international team of climate change experts with funding from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, published this article.

Tom Friedman to Climate Change Deniers

Edith Wilson's picture

I asked New York Times op-ed columnist Tom Friedman to come see our "100 ideas to save the planet" at last week's DM2009 competition.  His response was he was on his way to the Amazon, where climate change is accelerating the despoiling of that vast ecosystem and driving its indigenous communities into more povery.  A number of DM200 finalist projects from Latin American would attack those ravages.

In his column today, Friedman says bluntly: "My argument is simple: I think climate change is real. You don’t? That’s your business. But there are two other huge trends barreling down on us with energy implications that you simply can’t deny."

For more, here's the column.

Words That Echoed Across DM2009 Competition

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“I came here thinking of my people.  I leave here thinking of our planet.”

That's how finalist winner Carlos Daniel Vecco Giove of Peru summed up what DM2009 meant for him.  (Vecco was honored for his proposal to aid the Amazonian indigenous populations in his country in adapting to rapid climate change.)

Vecco's stirring words echoed around the floor of the competition, on up to the podium during the Friday, Nov. 13, awards ceremony, where a rapt audience heard Warren Evans, Environment Director of the World Bank, say: "Let me share with you what I heard that one of our finalists who traveled here from far away said this week."

One way or another, the other finalists expressed the same thought -- if not in so many words, then in the potential for their projects to bring innovative but practical climate adaptation not only to their target community but to people and places across regions and countries...to the whole planet.

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