Second-to-last stop – the ‘Friendly Islands’ of Tonga! I only stayed on the main island of Tongatapu but still got to do a good range of things. Obviously a very different context to climate-related problems here, with a population of 100,000 people spread out over more than 250,000 square miles; flooding from sea-level rise and cyclone and tsunami were what I focused on.
I had the privilege of being based with the MORDI Tonga Trust (http://www.morditonga.to/) and shown around Tongatapu by their general manager Soane. I was taken all around the island to see some of the areas most badly affected by flooding, particularly striking in some of the slums around Nuku’alofa (the capital, where I was staying) built right on the beach. Learned from the villagers and various AusAid workers around the coastline about their catch-22 situation cutting down mangrove forests: mangroves are great natural flood barrier and do a great job preventing erosion, plus protect offshore coral reefs from sediment and pollution, which then provide protection from waves in turn. However, fuel is very expensive everywhere in the South Pacific, and families need something to run a stove on. New forests are being replanted but can take 10 to 20 years to mature enough to make a real difference, and education programmes on how vital mangroves are don’t make heating a home any easier.
I also attended a climate change resilience workshop at the University of the South Pacific campus on the main island, where people working development from all over the South Pacific came together to share ideas and learn how to build better strategies for coping with climate change. There was certainly a very idiosyncratic way of doing things here – all very typical of my experience of Tonga – lots of fascinating ideas being shared, but mixed with much more laughter (and prayer) than I’d expected! Wonderful to see such open-minded collaboration but with an edge too, a feeling of being ‘underdogs’ – reminiscent of the conference I went to in Bangladesh in many ways.
Other interviews I conducted were with staff from the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change working on the Joint National Action Plan (JNAP) – a really remarkable team and one of the reasons I chose Tonga out of all the Pacific Islands for a case study. The JNAP secretariat is a team of 3 people overseeing all activities under the umbrella of climate change adaptation and disaster preparation, with the basic principle of having one single office getting funding for projects and co-ordinating them (more details here: http://www.tongajnapsecretariat.to/index.php/about-us). This avoids the problems of project duplication or overlaps, and having one team working in each others’ pockets in the same office – luckily they all seemed to get on like a house on fire – should mean good communication at all times (apparently lack of co-ordination between different government agencies and NGOs has been a big problem before this). Great to see this team getting some excellent results already: 60-70% of the funding for the initial JNAP proposals for 2010-2015 has been secured or is on the way already! I was told that funding to build a road bridge out of Nuku’alofa has been sought for decades, now that the project has been pitched as an ‘evacuation bridge’ for times of severe flooding so fitting nicely under the umbrella of climate change adaptation, funding might be on the way – good to see some creative thinking there. Obviously having three people in a room co-ordinating everything isn’t going to be feasible in Bangladesh with more than a thousand times Tonga’s population, but interviewing JNAP and observing them at work was a wonderful advertisement for having people in charge with wide-ranging but clearly defined roles, and crucially, as few of them as possible!
Country number 4 out of 6, this is going far too quickly! Moving from Dhaka to Auckland was quite an abrupt shock – never have I been so grateful for 10 degree weather, drizzle, and queues. Spent a couple of very relaxed, jet-lagged days in Auckland and then headed down South (through absolutely stunning scenery of course) to Wellington. Absolutely loved the place – definitely added it to the ever-growing list of places to return to with time and money to spare in the future.
Met with a few climate scientists based at the University of Wellington to get a general overview of the context for climate change and adaptation in New Zealand: rising sea levels, temperatures, and some seasonal disruption to precipitation patterns. Obviously not as drastic as the last three countries, but still very significant due to the number of coastal cities, the reliance on agriculture as such a key industry, and the knock-on effects of having climate change disrupting the pacific islands more severely (little teaser for the next Tonga post there). Fascinating to hear this from the ex-IPCC scientist Martin Manning, especially hearing about court cases where government planning of infrastructure hasn’t been climate-change-proof enough: “This would never happen in China”.
After Wellington I headed up to Hawkes Bay – the ‘fruit bowl’ of NZ where the sun is always shining, for two nights in Hastings and then two in the art-deco-themepark city of Napier on the coast (absolutely gorgeous place again, I have been spoiled here…). Spent the days meeting some vineyard owners and then association groups for the winegrowers and fruitgrowers in the region. All very positive which made for a nice change of tone, seeing the flip-side where climate change is something to potentially be exploited (by expanding wine-growing areas into new latitudes or altitudes for example). One key point which did keep coming up was the need for adaptive measures which are beneficial, or at least cost-neutral, now as well as for a hypothetical 30-year scenario – pretty obvious thinking for a small independent vineyard owner I suppose. The hospitality and generosity of these vineyards is remarkable by the way, I thoroughly recommend visiting…
Back in Auckland I met with scientists from more research groups. First was the Landcare Research Trust, a group which works throughout New Zealand on a range of environmental issues including some adaptation work. Got some marvellous advice and insights on working in the region, and on the fickle fashions of donor communities. Good to hear I chose to do research on adaptation just as interest is peaking! Finally I learned some fascinating things about Maori indigenous communities and climate change adaptation, how traditional knowledge of the landscape can intertwine with cutting-edge research. A fascinating contrast to Kenya as certain indigenous groups are given an equal amount of say in environmental issues and planning, like a new dam being built, as any government bodies. Seems like a wonderful approach (and only fair after all), although on the other hand getting an agreement from thousands of people for extremely urgent matters must be causing a few fingers to drum on the desks of the planning offices down there. Would love to be able to compare a few more indigenous-rights issues but maybe that’ll be for a future grantee to do.
That’s about it for NZ, now I’d better get on with Tonga I suppose!
Hello! First off I’d better just explain the delay in finishing off the India report – had a very turbulent few days in Bangladesh thanks to the monsoon’s impeccable timing. Anyway, the time in India ended well: spent a couple of days observing another project in Bihar called RES-RISK (Climate resilience through risk transfer), a collaboration by the Micro-Insurance Academy and BASIX (addresses). The aim of the project is to provide comprehensive insurance at a community level, having one scheme which can protect against extreme weather events but also assist with crop failure and healthcare issues linked to climate change. Certainly seems like a good way of treating symptoms and some of the causes together. Visiting the area was great, seeing some of the households who have now gotten into insurmountable trouble with lenders but could have benefited certainly underlined the need for this approach. Got some fascinating insights into India’s turbulent past with micro-finance from MIA workers as well – certainly some good lessons and warnings for groups such as EDK in Kenya which are looking to move into this area.
After that I had a sprint across to Kolkata to head over to Bangladesh! Nothing could have prepared me for the pandemonium of Dhaka, but luckily I had a wonderful little oasis in the middle of it all – the Chinese/Bangladeshi-run Sabrina’s Guest House – couldn’t recommend it enough to anyone going there! Wonderful to be spoilt and looked after for a few days after getting through North India. Spent a day at a policy conference in Dhaka with a few interesting climate-change talks; running themes were the need for better integration of all the different departments and groups involved in adaptation/disaster relief, and the need for Bangladesh to speak up on the global stage for the need for more emphasis on adaptating to problems happening now, as well as emission reduction.
After this, I interviewed coordinators from the disaster management bureau (DMB), working on the Comprehensive Disaster Management Plan (CDMP) – keeping track of abbreviations seems to be a strong Bengali skill. Again, the use of mobile phone technology is fascinating here: government warning systems have built the infrastructure to send all mobile phone users within an area a warning of imminent flood or cyclone danger. There are some issues: mobile phone access is far more widespread than even a couple of years ago, but still by no means universal, and reading a text message obviously requires literacy. Incredible to see something like this which wouldn’t have been possible even a few years a go all the same.
I visited two NGOs while in Bangladesh as well: Shushilan and Islamic Relief. Visiting Shushilan involved a fairly chaotic bus journey to Khulna – we arrived with an extra passenger as one of my fellow travellers went into labour just before getting there. Shushilan have been involved with lots of adaptation projects, making infrastructure and housing more flood-resistant, improving agricultural methods and so on. What really impressed me was the exploitation of increasingly saline conditions caused by climate change (normally very bad news for agriculture) to begin breeding crabs for export markets – bringing in far more revenue than previously possible if done properly. Islamic Relief are also working in several adaptation areas, including with mobile technology (this has become a pet obsession of mine) to provide not just warnings but advice and updates. Another thing which really impressed me was the approach to understanding the communities they work in; for example, flooding or cyclone shelters are not always used when they should be due to concerns about security of leaving things behind, or privacy concerns in the shelters. Really good to see the focus on making anything they do as ‘user-friendly’ and sensitive to the needs of the beneficiaries as possible.
That was it for Bangladesh – had a very hectic dash back from Khulna to catch my flight to NZ which is why I haven’t updated this until now! (You haven’t known stress until you’ve tried to get across Dhaka, in monsoon season, at the start of Ramadan, to catch a flight – some oversight there on my part perhaps). I’m in New Zealand and Tonga for the next couple of weeks so will update soon with what I get up to here.
Hello! Thought I should probably update what I’ve done so far in India as it’s been a while. Spent the first few days in magnificent-but-frenzied Delhi, population 13 million people – seemingly all larger-than-life characters. An incredible experience despite wilting like a true Englishman in the 45-degree weather (possibly didn’t think the timings through on that one). Did interviews with a few researchers from the livestock institute recommended to me by ILRI in Nairobi (see below), and met some of their colleagues in the International Rice Research Institute focusing on flood-resistant crops which I’ll hopefully get the chance to see ‘on the ground’ in Bangladesh later this month.
Took a couple days off to catch up on work and celebrate turning 20 in Varanasi, one of India’s holiest Hindu sites on the Ganges. Not a bad place to end one’s teenage years, although inadvertently choosing a hostel right next to one of the cremation ghats was probably not such a good move…
After Varanasi I traversed over to Bihar up in the North-East, meeting up with the team from Delhi conducting the CCAFS study (effects of climate change on agricultural food security), and accidentally stumbled across a fascinating potential effect of climate change to look into further. Excuse my clumsy attempts to boil this down to a few sentences, but in a nutshell: Various factors make dairy a far more important/profitable resource than meat from livestock, so obviously female animals are much ‘better’ to have than males. One of the farmers in Bihar district told me that animals understand this, and give birth to more female offspring than males during hard times. A biological principle called the Trivers-Willard effect suggests that mothers should be slightly biased towards having sons rather than daughters when they’re at full health and will produce the healthiest offspring (as the chances of male offspring getting to reproduce are more dependent on being strong enough to out-compete other males), and biased towards daughters when less healthy. Could this sort of thing be going on amongst livestock populations – increased climatic risk causing a bias towards female offspring (with the associated economic benefits)? I’m currently discussing the possibility of a study to investigate this with a contact from ILRI who thinks it’s worth a nose at, so who knows?
Anyway that’s India so far, in the next couple of days I’ll be meeting up with a team from the Micro Insurance Academy to find out about the climate risk resilience project they’re beginning, also around Bihar. Once that’s done it’s off to Bangladesh – apprehensive and very excited already!
What a fascinating 2 weeks in Kenya! For most of the time I’ve been based in and around Nairobi – kicked off at the Pivot East mobile technology conference where I met the developers of Sarura, a mobile app which gives agricultural advice to farmers, and information about upcoming climate conditions and risks. Sounds like a highly efficient way of bridging the gap between collecting information and giving it to people who need it most, and allows farmers to actively request advice (and thus are much more likely to change traditional practices which are no longer viable due to an increasingly erratic climate). Was also great to visit iHub – Nairobi’s answer to silicon valley it seems!
Spent a couple of days at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) conducting interviews about the effects of climate change on pastoralist economies around Kenya, especially focusing on the devastating 2010/2011 droughts. Also got some excellent insights from researchers at the University of Nairobi on new methods of sustainable agriculture and horticulture, Kenya’s burgeoning organic export businesses, and some of the politics involved with Kenya’s NGOs.
Have spent the last few days in the town of Mtito Andei with the Africa Sand Dam Foundation – thanks to their UK partners Excellent Development for arranging this. Sand dams (forgive the clumsy simplification) allow an area suffering severely from drought to maintain a constant year-round water supply by storing the water in sand to prevent evaporation. Obviously the direct and indirect benefits of this are immense – the group in the picture below have been able to move from severe subsistence risk (with all the health and social issues this brings) to year-round commercial farming, and I was amazed to see another group which had even constructed an artificial pond for fishing! Good luck to ASDF in the future expanding into new areas.
So that’s Kenya – leaving for New Delhi at 6pm tonight, will update from India soon!
For anyone new I’m Harry Boulding, studying Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Liverpool. I’m currently conducting a research project into responses to climate change, which will take me around the world via Kenya, India, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Tonga, and Mexico. This colossal ego trip (which I hope will however be of benefit, in some way, to some people suffering the effects of climate change) is being subsidised by a wonderful organisation called the Circumnavigators Foundation: http://circumnavigators.org/
Just arrived in Kenya yesterday, and will be here for two weeks to research how mobile phone technology and livestock management strategies are helping subsistence farmers respond to increased climatic risks, and hopefully a sand-dam water conservation project as well. So do please subscribe if you’re interested in this area, or you just have a burning desire to hear about phones, cows, and sand.