The marriage that never happened...DRR and Climate Change Adaptation

Bruno reports from Nairobi on a failed marriage and why Disaster Risk Reduction and Community-based Adaptation have been unsuccessful at working more closely together.

From April 27-29, 2015 I took part in the Ninth International Conference on Community-based Adaptation in Nairobi (Kenya), organized by the International Institute for Environment and Development. Theme of this year's Conference was 'Measuring and enhancing effective adaptation'. GNDR presented a poster on Frontline and was engaged in a session on 'Tools and Techniques for Measuring Effective Adaptation and Resilience'. Both sessions generated a lot of interest from the 400 participants. Frontline's focus on people's perspectives, the diversity of threats that are being identified through the process and the ability to aggregate (and dis-aggregate) the findings in a tableau/dashboard, were all seen as very innovative and of high relevance to Community Based Adaptation (CBA). As a result GNDR won the third prize in the CBA poster competition out of 35 submissions.

However, I was surprised to notice that very few people from the DRR civil society community (or GNDR members) were present at the CBA conference, although this is the major global gathering of CSO practitioners in the climate adaptation sector. Even so, during the Conference, very little reference was made to local level DRR as an important source of inspiration for CBA work. Lots of session topics, such as measuring and evaluating the effectiveness of local level resilience building, the important role of indigenous knowledge and culture, the need to increase gender awareness and promote the inclusion of vulnerable groups, the private sector as a key stakeholder, the important link with eco-system management and restoration, have all already been extensively reflected on and debated in the DRR community over the past decade. Yet, looking at the background of the panellists, hardly any substantial knowledge exchange between the two communities took place in Nairobi.

Ten years ago, when CBA first emerged as a new field of engagement for civil society actors, there was considerable optimism that the DRR and CCA sectors (despite their different origins, frameworks and certain differences in hazard types) would become natural allies and eventually blend into each other. This because both fields had vulnerability reduction (or resilience building) as their common overall goal and it would not make sense to yet create a separate CBA silo. There were indeed many reasons for both sectors to court each other: DRR had already ample policy and practice experience and had developed many useful tools, which climate adaptation was clearly lacking at the time; (CB)DRR was enchanted by the high level of political interest the climate sector received and the potential access to the growing climate funds.

However, despite some worthy efforts to bridge the gaps by creating joint discussion forums, platforms and organisational alliances to promote mutual learning and knowledge exchange, the wooing did not continue and both fields seem over the last few years to have again gone their own way. The DRR sector in many cases still struggles to effectively incorporate climate concerns in their practice and strategies and the CBA community has chosen to develop their own approaches and methodologies rather than building upon the existing wealth of DRR learning. When I asked Atiq Rahman, one of the founding fathers of CBA, here in Nairobi about the underlying factors for the failed marriage between DRR and CCA he referred to deep rooted historical, institutional and political factors, which in the end were stronger than the mutual willingness to bridge the gap.

It is a well-known fact that communities perceive and address climate change, disasters and poverty issues in a holistic way and do not approach the threats they face through a fragmented silo approach. Civil society organisations, whose main aim is to build effective community resilience, need therefore to continue to seek a closer strategic engagement between DRR and CCA fields at the local level. Stronger policy cohesion has been identified by GNDR as one of the key principles in its 'Reality Check' campaign. The current revision of the three global frameworks on DRR, CCA and the Sustainable Development Goals, offers a golden opportunity for a renewed collaboration. GNDR has therefore recently started a dialogue with the CBA community to jointly develop a post-2015 local monitoring system and baseline as a promising first step to repair this estranged relationship.

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