Key research lessons about mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in South Asia

Learning Forum participants identify next steps and ways forward for continued engagement in research on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

There is little doubt that climate change will increase disasters throughout South Asia thus requiring long-term climate change adaptation (CCA) informing and integrating with disaster risk reduction (DRR) through planning and response. Mainstreaming of CCA and DRR is increasingly on the forefront of policy discussions for disaster management, yet action on this integration is lagging. Six research projects from India, Pakistan, and Nepal addressed this challenge by discussing and synthesizing their research results during the CDKN+START Learning Forum in early February.

The co-investigators from the six research projects at the event explored the research findings and experiences with a focus on three themes:

1. Institutional arrangement and government structures that influence the degree of flexibility of DRR across varying scales

2. The changing nature of systemic development factors (both endogenous and exogenous) that shape vulnerability to disaster

3. Policy innovations that promote convergence of DRR and CCA into policy and practice at varying scales

Through engaging and dynamic conversations, the group observed several notable key lessons about mainstreaming CCA and DRR from the local to regional scales in South Asia.

Advocating for mainstreaming has not beget action
Whether researchers, practitioners, community members, or policymakers, we are advocating for mainstreaming climate change into policies and actions related to disaster management. However, the co-investigators asserted that words rarely turn to action, or at least only slowly. The six research projects explored the possibilities of mainstreaming CCA into DRR from the community scale to national policy. SEEDS India worked with communities in Rajasthan and Ladakh to develop community-based monitoring of weather to prepare for and understand disasters from flood, drought, and changing temperatures. While Intercooperation Social Development India (ICSD) and All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) shared their research results on climate smart disaster management with national and state government bodies, such as the National Disaster Management Agency.

It’s about planning, not only response
When a disaster strikes, there is always response, but that can be ad-hoc and disorganized, and use human and financial resource poorly. With the increasing pressures of climate change, disaster management requires planning rather than dependence on post-disaster management. Such planning involves working across vertical and horizontal scales and across sectors to better prepare for, anticipate, and manage possible disasters. Based on their case study of flooding in Gorakphur, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET) developed a training module for disaster managers and planners which will be used across districts nationwide.

Who does the planning?
While it’s about planning, the details are quite unclear. What sector should be involved in mainstreaming and planning; all sectors or does that dilute responsibility? What scale should do the planning? Who are the intermediaries between communities and national policies that can implement plans? The research teams were left with more questions than answers reflecting the successes and challenges of their case study research. Research by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Darjeeling and Sikkim revealed the importance of place-based management given different socio-political and ecological contexts. The varied contexts require coordination across a range of stakeholders, including traditional local administrative bodies (dzumsa), district government, and NGOs.

Data and information challenges
Even if plans are being developed, data to support robust decisions may not be available, transparent, and shared. WWF Pakistan used an analysis of productivity loss to inform policy on fisheries and livestock sectors related to pre- and post-disaster and recovery after flooding in Manchar Lake and Chotiari. The National Disaster Risk Institute (NDMI) in Nepal used hydro-meterological modeling and a socio-economic vulnerability assessment to provide policy recommendations on the establishment of a dam in the Koshi River basin. However, even if the data is available, disaster managers need to be comfortable with the data to enable informed action. The researchers explained the challenges to communicate effectively to inform policy decisions at any scale.

Networks for action
The co-investigators of the six research projects identified their unique contributions to the discussion and implementation of mainstreaming DRR and CCA at multiple horizontal and vertical scales. In the two-day workshop, participants advocated for the creation of a task force and network for action to support engagement between researchers and policy makers on DRR and CCA issues across South Asia. A network provides a platform for upscaling the research lessons.

The clarity in which the six research projects identified the challenges of mainstreaming CCA and DRR suggest the enormous possibility and need for continued research. Yet translating research into action necessitates timely and succinct communication and engagement with policy makers at all scales. This continues to be a challenge worth confronting to translate these key lessons and questions into policy and decision making.