‘Community-Based Adaptation’ and ‘Technology Justice’

November 24th, 2014

Adaptation helps species to survive and evolve. Just imagine a polar bear strolling on a floating ice sheet or a humming bird sipping nectar from a flower while hovering or a dormant desert plant waiting for one quick shower to complete its life-cycle. After getting quite significantly evolved over the last couple of million years, human’s adaptation continues: to bad traffic, to economic meltdown or to changing climate!

Artificial aquifer tubewell, Shyamnagar

Artificial aquifer tubewell, Shyamnagar

Climate change challenges our effort to sustain and develop. So we can say adaptation to climate change basically comprises measures or actions that “keep development ‘on-track’”. If it is so, then what is community-based adaptation? Let me try to explain it by reflecting on four issues.

First, who are the actors? Is community-based adaptation made up of actions taken ‘only’ by a vulnerable community, without any outside help? Or actions ‘for’ a vulnerable community, but by the outsiders? Or measures taken ‘with’ the vulnerable community? I believe all three are correct depending on the situations. I explain this in the next points.

Second, community-based adaptation also has space and time dimensions. It basically argues that, under changing climate, a specific location is facing and will face specific problems – causing vulnerability of its people. So, it needs specific solutions with those people to build their resilience. And, these actions are not only for now, but also for the future.

Third, community-based adaptation is about direction as well – top-down or bottom-up. While strategies, policies and programmes for adaptation are mostly top-down, community-based adaptation is essentially bottom-up in nature. But, top-down elements are also needed. For example, for channeling resources, technology transfer, sophisticated  information (e.g. on weather or on flood), or understanding the long-term impacts of the adaptation actions.

The fourth issue is perception. Different people perceive community-based adaptation differently. Some may say it is a celebration of vulnerable communities’ experience. Others may call it a demonstration of community empowerment. Some may still see it an opportunity to showcase a mix of traditional/local and modern knowledge. Nevertheless, ‘community-based adaptation’ is a relatively new concept. Some may call it an approach. (I, however, find philosophy in it.) Whatever you call it, it is still evolving, so are its definition and image before us. Community-based adaptation cannot be found in the first four IPCC assessment reports. It has, however, made very strong presence in the 5th IPCC Assessment Report (Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability) published earlier this year.

But, how can simple, low-cost technological innovations help community-based adaptation? To answer this question, I will give you three examples from Bangladesh that I followed closely.

Salt tolerant rice cultivation (BINA 8) in Atulia union Shyamnagar Satkhira by Md  Asadujjaman Practical ActionResearches of Bangladesh in recent years have invented several rice and other crop varieties that survive up to certain salinity levels. It is therefore important to keep the salinity of irrigation water as low as possible to maintain soil salinity tolerable. In a recently tried model on the coast, monsoon rain is caught in small ponds to irrigate nearby rice fields in the winter. The pond owners not only get benefited from the rice farmers for their service, but also from farming low-salinity-tolerant fish almost all-the-year-round.

On the saline coast, several options already exist to tackle sever drinking water problem, such as, rain-water harvesting, Pond-Sand Filter, piped supply of uncontaminated groundwater, and conserved rain-fed ponds. But, in the last option, over-harvesting causes severe pollution of these ponds. Innovative ‘artificial aquifer tube-wells’ installed by contaminated ponds help villagers to get clean drinking water, especially in winter months.

My final example comes with sea-going boats. Due to climate variability, sea now gets rough more frequently than before. As a result, bottom planks of wooden fishing boats weaken quickly as they hit submerged sand dunes more frequently than before. Simple, low-cost modifications in the existing boat design, like steel frames, reinforce the boats and save lives of the fishermen from drowning.

These examples highlight the characteristics of community-based adaptation I indicated above: the actors, space specificity, time dimension, process direction, and the perception. Although innovation helps community-based adaptation, it is a never ending process. It is needed for new areas, at new times, to face new challenges. Floating gardening, a traditional agricultural practice of Bangladesh, offers a good example to explain this.

There are issues beyond technological innovation. Governance structure needs to be adaptive to changing situation. The existing ‘Union/Upazila Disaster Management Committees’ of Bangladesh, for example, may need to be transformed into ‘Union/Upazila Disaster Risk Reduction-Climate Change Adaptation Committees’ to handle new actions under the climate change regime. Prevailing concepts and approaches need to respond to changes too. Resilience, for instance, has been emerging in a big way demanding integration of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Financial mechanism needs to be adaptive as well for, for example, channeling national funds to the local level. Similar changes are needed in the monitoring and evaluation system to follow and measure adaptation actions.

Community-based adaptation and technology − do they have anything to do with ‘justice’? A new concept called ‘Technology Justice’ is slowly emerging as a rallying cry. Technology justice can be defined as the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.

If we analyse the key elements of ‘community-based adaptation’ and ‘technology justice’, we can find a few commonalities. Both put people in the centre, focus on technology, allow people to make own choice, give them freedom to have a safe life, appreciate collective strength of people, and consider both the present & the future. These connections can help these philosophies – ‘community-based adaptation’ and ‘technology justice’ − to help each other and to help the poor communities vulnerable to climate change.

Adaptation appears to be adjusting to a ‘challenge’. A challenge may come from ourselves or outside, but is generally considered negative. But, does climate change as a challenge have anything positive to offer? I believe it has. It gives us the opportunity to improvise, to innovate and to maximize our collective efforts, not only to survive, but also to evolve as a better species.

One response to “‘Community-Based Adaptation’ and ‘Technology Justice’”

  1. Mofizur Rahman Says:

    Dear Irfan vai,
    Before moving towards the explanation of community based adaptation, it will be nice to have a discussion about the definition of community. How do we define community ? What’s our notions and common practice in Bangladesh while defining community ? Who are outsiders ? and how to deliniate community boundaries?

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