Three 'tribes' within development can work together

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Social protection, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation – how do they relate to one another? Are they still largely separate communities of practice or ‘tribes’ within development or humanitarian contexts? Are there signs that they are beginning to work together to help us deal with the increasingly risky and uncertain world in which we live – one in which life comes at you fast?


The devastating earthquake and tsunami in northeast Japan have reminded us just how precarious people’s lives and well-being can be, even in the world’s richest countries. But in the world’s poorest countries and communities, the threat of drought, floods and other climate risks looms large in everyday life, and is a major reason why many people are held back from transforming their livelihoods and permanently escaping poverty.


Rehabilitating degraded lands by water  harvesting in Lemo Woreda, Ethiopia. Picture by Cecilia Costella

Last week in Addis Ababa, 120 people from 24 countries gathered in UNECA’s historic Africa Hall – an architecturally significant symbol of African independence and optimism – to learn from each other how best to make social protection work for pro-poor disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Ethiopia was the ideal venue for this international workshop. One in three people in Ethiopia lives in poverty, largely dependent on rain-fed agriculture for a living, and is highly susceptible to droughts, floods and other climate vagaries.


As the President of Ethiopia, H.E. Girma W/ Giorgis, remarked in his welcome address, Ethiopia is also proud to be breaking new ground in social protection for climate risk management through the flagship Productive Safety Nets Project (PSNP). In his video message to the workshop, the World Bank’s Special Envoy for Climate Change, Andrew Steer, applauded Ethiopia for its part in being a “pioneer in the revolution that is under way in social protection programs for the poor”. Ethiopia also displays global leadership in the ongoing climate change negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As Andrew Steer observed, just as the Government of South Africa is determined that the Durban Conference of the Parties (COP) in December this year be seen as “Africa’s COP – just like the World Cup”, the agenda discussed in this workshop was very much “Africa’s agenda, and the agenda of all vulnerable countries everywhere”.


Workshop participants represented developing country governments, civil society organizations, think tanks, identified with one or more of the three tribes. The members of this diverse group all grapple with the challenge of helping to bring about pro-poor outcomes on the ground through the integration of social protection, disaster risk management, and climate change adaptation. The challenges of integration are very real. The tribes are often separated in practice by organizational mandates, funding streams, timescales of intervention, the ideologies and conceptual frameworks that underpin policies and programs, jargon, history, and the baggage associated with group-think. Through a combination of facilitated group work, lively simulation games, field visits, panel discussions, and opportunities for informal networking, workshop participants came to the collective view that, on balance, there was more uniting the three tribes than dividing them. The integrative aspects come together through a focus on building resilience of the most vulnerable.


Rehabilitating degraded lands by water  harvesting in Lemo Woreda, Ethiopia. Picture by Cecilia CostellaI joined the field trip to Lemo woreda, in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations region, where we saw PSNP support for community-based participatory watershed management in practice. In the rain, we watched community members digging water harvesting pits in a deep gully next to their fields, in return for a daily wage. These pits are designed to concentrate water around the roots of new tree seedlings which, when mature, would help prevent the further spread of gully erosion. As our visit coincided with the belg rainy season, the pits were already full of water, but in the dry season ahead this concentration of soil moisture will prove critical to seedling survival. What we were witnessing was resilience building on at least two levels: short-run wage employment contributed to immediate household food security of the poor, while at the same time the public investments being made in resilience of the landscape also contributed to household livelihood security over the longer term through restoring productive land for agriculture.


Workshop participants also learned about other examples where building livelihood resilience of the most vulnerable and landscape-level resilience at the same time is becoming an integral feature of countries’ own strategies for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. In Bangladesh, Niger and Tajikistan, for example, such approaches form core pillars of those countries’ Strategic Programs for Climate Resilience, leveraged by investments under the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR). In India too, as we heard from Vijay Kumar, Joint Secretary of India’s Ministry of Rural Development, billions of dollars worth of investments are being made to bring about the convergence of Andhra Pradesh’s proven model for promoting rural livelihoods through building strong self-help institutions of the poor, with rural employment guarantee schemes such as those first tried in the state of Maharashtra which – like PSNP in Ethiopia – invest heavily in soil and water conservation structures for improved watershed management. While this is already happening in a number of Indian states, it is now being ambitiously scaled up to national level, with World Bank support, through the National Rural Livelihoods Mission.


The workshop in Addis Ababa this week marked an important first step in exchanging knowledge on such approaches. In his own blog, the director of IDS Lawrence Haddad has offered some conclusions that he took away from the workshop The World Bank’s Social Dimensions of Climate Change practice group is committed to helping support this operational learning agenda in partnership with many of those represented in the workshop.




Robin Mearns

Manager, Social Sustainability and Inclusion

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