Integrating local climate actions into development planning

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Manicaland hit by Cyclone Idai

By Peter Makwana

AROUND the world, vulnerable local communities, especially those living in marginal environments, constitute a large group of local communities. It is the vulnerable communities that are subject to the unpredictable nature of the impacts and risks of climate change. They are the poor and the impoverished, but only poor due to lack of material resources, while being very rich in local knowledge, resilience and expertise.

The main disadvantage of vulnerable communities is that they are looked down upon, they do not have the required voice and they are isolated from authorities and decision-makers, so that they are hardly consulted.

This group of marginalized communities face many challenges related to the impacts and shocks of climate change, in their attempts to adapt in their respective areas.

They are still the victims of extreme weather and climate events that lead to devastating floods and prolonged droughts. Impacts, hazards and risks also include eroded and degraded local landscapes, among others. Therefore, they need both coping and adaptive strategies.

These vulnerable communities have their own personal coping and resilience issues that are largely overlooked due to their status and undesirable local conditions. Their rights to climate justice are largely ignored, local scholars and researchers shun them. They are seen as unhappy and helpless communities, unable to do anything material and tangible except receive food aid and mentoring. They suffer from skewed perceptions from authorities, but their view of the world is firm and inspiring. When foreign researchers come to engage these vulnerable local communities, authorities, academics, media and researchers generally cry foul. In short, these vulnerable local communities do not receive the attention and respect they deserve.

It is common knowledge that these communities around the world have their own forms of undocumented intellectual property rights (IPRs), which are part of their valuable foundational knowledge banks. These are their own unique techniques, strategies and knowledge systems for coping and adapting, specific to the climatic hazards and contexts in the regions where they reside.

Local communities have a strong interaction and relationship with ecosystems, which strengthens their resilience and context-specific knowledge systems. In this rapidly changing climate and because they are continually marginalized, ostracized and looked down upon, there is a danger that their resilience practices and knowledge systems will be directly affected by climate change.

Due to continued marginalization, these communities have lost confidence in themselves, their voices and the governance systems around them. This occurs despite these communities having a working knowledge of innovative indigenous tools such as disaster monitoring and weather forecasting, including participatory conservation planning and horizontal peer-to-peer communication strategies. These are designed to bridge the major communication gaps between them and the authorities.

They use bottom-up approaches and horizontal networks to enable them to have knowledge and information to enhance their understanding of sustainable development issues and the new knowledge economy as the poor and disadvantaged in sufficiently empowering ways. These are areas of intervention that can support the empowerment of the poor by enabling voiceless and marginalized groups to communicate, share critical and strategic information as well as mobilize others. In this regard, local people share their experiences at the same level according to their needs, expectations and worldviews in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

It is also important in this regard that universities and research organizations reach out to, engage and consult with local communities on critical issues of traditional environmental governance, diversity and building resilience. In doing so, local communities are part of the solution to the climate challenges they face on a daily basis. This is also important for proposing local tolerant crop varieties and seed banks towards their own models of agricultural production. These would be used to develop their own cropping calendars that can cope with climatic uncertainties and shocks.

These local communities can be introduced to livelihood diversification options like fish ponds and beekeeping in their agricultural activities for better nutrition and income generation for households. These local communities have knowledge focused on the mapping and zoning of their landscapes and the demarcation of territories as part of their local adaptation strategies.

They also have their own local learning for resilience while preserving their grazing landscapes as community conservation areas.

This means that indigenous local communities at the local level respond to climate change in a sustainable and empowering way, using their own local and traditional knowledge to drive their adaptation, coping with the hazards and impacts of climate change.

These local communities, despite huge communication gaps from the responsible authorities, have their own effective means of traditional channels and ways of communication like storytelling, singing, drumming, rain ceremonies and dances , among others. These traditional ecological pathways and steps need to be incorporated into new emerging technologies and evolve with the changing times.

Efforts should also be made to transform these initiatives at the grassroots level so that they can attract and engage local youth rather than expecting youth to rely on generational absorption. In this regard, it is important to include marginalized youth and other disadvantaged members of the community so that they are included in the cross-cutting digital divide. In this division, their voices are amplified through user-friendly, interactive and engaging digital communication tools.

Digital technologies merge with communication because communication is central and serves to level things, make things clear and create meaning. Combined, digital technologies and communication are enlightened means used to challenge negative power, raise the voices of the marginalized and influence policy. Digital communication is primarily used to mobilize, raise awareness and generate knowledge as well as to create partnerships.

  • Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in a personal capacity and can be contacted at: [email protected]

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