Ownership vs. Urgency – An Adaptation Dilemma

How can we balance the need for urgent climate adaptation measures while ensuring that those affected have a say in their own future?

The threat of climate change to Sub Saharan Africa, even in the short-term is serious. Putting the terrifying figures of a 2-4 degree rise in temperature aside, the impacts of a changing climate are already taking place. A warming trend across the continent has been evident since the ’60s, along with changing rates of rainfall, although it is still unclear whether certain places (such as West Africa) will see an increase or a decrease. Drought’s have been on the increase for some time, such as the one striking the Horn of Africa in 2011. We’re also seeing more freak or intense weather events like mass flooding, such as in Nigeria and Chad over the course of 2011-2012. Unpredictable rainfall also makes it difficult for farmers to know when to plant crops and spend precious resources on supplies for the farming season. A decrease in agricultural productivity has already been identified, with dire predictions for the next 15-20 years posing a threat to food security and global food prices.

These slight seeming changes impacts are compounded by the population’s vulnerability. It’s difficult to attribute individual events to climate change, but they can still show us the potential for danger. The 2011 droughts in the Horn of Africa led to wide-spread malnutrition across several countries, as well as higher rates of dangerous infectious diseases, compounded by the thousands of travelling refugees, lacking sanitation and clean water. This was also the case for flooding in Mozambique in 2013. Widespread impacts mean that families with meager resources can’t turn to their usual support networks (local village / family / churches, etc), as everyone has been equally affected.

Flooding in Nigeria

Flooding in Nigeria (Reuters)

Preparations are needed urgently to prepare for extreme weather events like floods or drought. Cities in particular, especially those with large slum areas, need investment before the next surprise disaster destroys communities of the urban poor. One UN report estimates that by 2020, $13 billion is needed each year for adaptation across the continent, increasing by 7% each year after that as the world continues to warm. Inadequate adaptation measures now will increase this figure even further into the future.

Let’s put to one side the fact that this money is not nearly available for spending. (So far, we have about $1 billion for Africa’s adaptation) donated by rich countries.

Even if the cash was there, there is a significant problem of balancing the need for urgency with the need to carry out programs in a way that is inclusive, participatory, and owned by both developing country governments and their citizens. The argument runs like this…

Countries that donate aid have agreed (at least in principle), to make their money more effective by increasing country” ownership” of funds. In Busan 2012, OECD countries agreed that “development priorities can only succeed if they are led by developing countries, implementing approaches that are tailored to country-specific situations and needs”. Ownership matters, because historically, development measures that haven’t been owned by countries (large-scale development) or communities (local level development) have a tendency to fail. (millennium Villages, anyone?) 

That sounds very nice, but in practice ownership is much more than just countries getting to spend their donor given pocket-money on whatever they like. The process of spending the money itself is much more complex. Donor funds are allocated to designed programs, which are subject to policy, and policy emerges out of the delightful Machiavellian world of party politics, lobbying, power brokering and agenda-setting we are all used to. In countries where state institutions have been captured by elites (as in some African countries), it might be that the government is choosing how to spend the money, but the lack of consultation with anyone else outside government would give us pause before calling it “country ownership” (because we don’t define a country purely by the contents of its government).

Real ownership is more of a process than a thing that a country has for itself. The process of spending money is influenced by different groups or actors, with different amounts of power, all vying to have the biggest say on how the funds are spent. A healthy process of ownership involves consultation, participation and real, engaged discussion with the people whom adaptation and poverty reduction programs are going to affect. That means talking to the poorest people in the country; they are, in general, the most vulnerable to unpredicted change, and the ones who will be affected by climate change adaptation spending.

Trouble is – that takes time.  A program that takes the time to engage with communities, across different groups (men and women, young and old, across religious, tribal and clan lines), takes time, and so it should. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of these communities speak relatively obscure languages, are hard to reach, and often spend large parts of their day working for scant incomes. Take the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) of the World Bank’s Climate Investment Funds. Its design, negotiations with countries took 2 and a half years. Implementation has only begun in the last 6 months. That program was supposed to involve lots of country-wide consultation, but as noted in last week’s post, has been criticised mostly because of it’s failure to do so. So 4 years on, the money is being spent (great!), but we certainly wouldn’t call it “owned” by the people it’s being spent on (not so great).

The dilemma can be summarised as “Urgency” vs. “Ownership”, and both are equally important, not least because programs that aren’t owned have an annoying tendency to fail. And yet, we need to think practically about how to get needed adaptation funds out to communities who need them now. For a start

1)      Take stock of existing community groups and civil society organisations (CSOs), and start gathering their opinions now. Donors and developing country governments shouldn’t be waiting  to do their consultations just because a given funding program says they have to. Getting ahead of the game is crucial, and that means bringing the public into the policy making fold on climate change adaptation and development

2)      Support CSO’s to lobby their local and national governments better, and help communities to organise themselves. That means through funding support and rights based education, to generate a movement that supports the voice of the poor in how adaptation (and by association, development policy) is set.

3)      Particularly for agricultural adaptation, consider the methods of adaptation already used by indigenous communities. Support communities to use methods that they have already been using to adapt for hundreds of years, but may have forgotten or lost due to poverty and dependence on things like artificial fertiliser and pesticides. These can serve as both core and interim adaptation measures, which can then be bolstered with new techniques or infrastructure.

And these are just a start (post your recommendations below…!) The dilemma is not one solved easily, but thinking ahead now could save problems for adaptation programs long into the future.