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CBA14 programme

Tue, 21/07/2020 - 06:22

Explore the programme for the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA14).

CBA14 will take place online from 21-25 September 2020, and will feature a full and varied programme of innovative and interactive sessions, with opportunities to build your capacity and skills, learn from others and present your own experiences. Learn more about the event and its objectives.

The only conference that focuses on community-based adaptation, CBA14 puts the people most vulnerable to climate change at the centre of the conversation.

Explore the programme below and its five themes, filter by tracks, and submit your proposals for sessions. Sll times shown are GMT+1.


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About the organisers

CBA14 is organised by CARE, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, the Global Resilience Partnership, Irish Aid, Practical Action and IIED, in collaboration with BRAC, the Huairou Commission, Green Africa Youth, IUCN NL, Environmental Management for Livelihood Improvement Bwaise Facility, African Centre for Trade and Development and Slum Dwellers International.

CBA14: Outline programme

Tue, 21/07/2020 - 06:22

Explore the programme for the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA14).

The 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA14) will take place online from 21-25 September 2020, and will feature a full and varied programme of innovative and interactive sessions, with opportunities to build your capacity and skills, learn from others and present your own experiences.

The event will bring together practitioners, grassroots representatives, local and national government planners, policymakers and donors working at all levels and scales to discuss how we can drive ambition for a climate-resilient future.

With five key themes – climate finance, adaptation technology, responsive policy, nature-based solutions and youth – CBA14 will provide an innovative interactive space for the global CBA community to come together to promote effective climate action. You can join workshops and dialogues on key issues or learn how to perfect your project pitch in the Dragon’s Den, or participate in the WeADAPT Marketplace and crowd-sourced open space roundtables. As soon as you register, the conference platform will also offer many networking opportunities.

Explore the outline programme below, and submit your proposals for sessions.


Powered By WhovaBest Conference and Event App

About the organisers

CBA14 is organised by CARE, the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, the Global Resilience Partnership, Irish Aid, Practical Action and IIED, in collaboration with BRAC, the Huariou Commission, Green Africa Youth, IUCN NL, Environmental Management for Livelihood Improvement Bwaise Facility, African Centre for Trade and Development and Slum Dwellers International.

Q&A: New policy champions communities in the push to conserve Uganda’s wildlife

Tue, 21/07/2020 - 06:20

A new community conservation policy is aiming to tackle poaching and reduce the number of human-wildlife conflicts in Uganda. George Owoyesigire, of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, explains.

George Owoyesigire (GO) is director of the community conservation sub-directorate of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). For more than 20 years he has worked on the implementation of field conservation programmes and policies that make communities central to Uganda’s wildlife conservation efforts.

Here, Geoffrey Mwedde from IIED’s partner Wildlife Conservation Society Uganda puts questions to Owoyesigire about the aims, scope, and ambition of UWA’s exciting new community conversation policy and, with Ugandan communities facing a challenging situation due to COVID-19, the implications of the pandemic.

Q: Could you describe the history of community conservation approaches in Uganda?

A: During the colonial period, the government pursued a ‘fortress conservation’ strategy – enforcing wildlife protection laws with minimal involvement of local people. In the early 1920s, protected areas such as forest reserves were created.

The idea was to maintain large tracts of wildlife conservation areas but the process did not actively involve or consult local communities. The introduction of formal sport hunting allowed white colonial populations to hunt; meanwhile traditional hunting was banned, causing great displeasure and hardship for communities that were no longer able to freely access game meat. Communities felt disenfranchised of their traditional right to access resources.

Many of the conservation policies introduced during colonial rule remained in place, even after Uganda gained independence in 1962. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that we saw a shift in thinking. The then government realised that it needed to involve the people of Uganda in the conservation and management of wildlife – not only to protect species but to give local people a fair share of benefits from conservation initiatives.

The previous policies emphasised preservation rather than sustainable use and community participation. A number of issues were emerging. The human population was increasing and placing immense pressure on natural resources. Human-wildlife interactions and conflicts were increasing.

The 1996 Wildlife Statute (later enacted as the Uganda Wildlife Act 2000) recognised the role of local communities in wildlife conservation. Similarly, the 1999 National Wildlife Policy recognised community participation in wildlife management and influenced subsequent planning that created opportunities for communities to engage directly in and benefit from wildlife conservation.

Later, the 2014 revised National Wildlife Policy and recently revised and updated Uganda Wildlife Act (2019) re-emphasised and strengthened recognition of the role that communities can play in conservation.

This has since culminated into the recent review of the outdated 2004 Uganda Wildlife Authority Community Conservation Policy that seeks to facilitate effective implementation of community engagement programmes around wildlife conservation areas. The policy recognises the role communities can play in mitigating human-wildlife conflicts, detection of wildlife crime and intelligence gathering – for example initiating mechanisms for facilitating and engaging community informants and wildlife scouts to address conflicts and curtail poaching.

It also emphasises the need to restructure, streamline and strengthen UWA’s flagship community benefit-sharing and awareness programmes in order to achieve long-term impact on wildlife conservation and community livelihoods. Examples included planned development and effective implementation of community-led conservation action plans and livelihood enterprises to enhance rural incomes and mitigate poaching.

Q: The Uganda Wildlife Authority has recently updated its community conservation policy. Why has the old policy been revised?

GO: The previous 2004 community conservation policy was out of date. It did not recognise the role communities can play in addressing rising cases of human-wildlife conflicts, fighting organised wildlife crime and poaching in Uganda.

Ranger tracking chimpanzees at Kibale National Park, in Uganda (Photo: Kent MacElwee via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The old policy wasn’t aligned to other recent government policies and strategies. Further, it did not recognise the role communities can play in addressing a number of other emerging key issues and threats to conservation such as climate change.

Q: What are some of the policy’s key elements?

GO: It’s an ambitious policy, covering many areas. One area that it tackles head-on is mitigation of human-wildlife conflicts through engagement of community wildlife scouts. The policy also emphasises the need to tackle poaching. Key to developing this part of the policy was understanding the root causes of the problem. For example, some communities said they have no alternatives – they poach because their crops have been destroyed by wildlife. We heard how some are subsistence poachers while others do it for commercial reasons.

We want to create incentives for communities to report on, and to contribute to preventing, wildlife crime. One way we can do this is by providing alternative livelihood opportunities for communities. UWA has already formulated the ‘Community Livelihoods Support Programme Guidelines’ (2020) to guide effective implementation of the scheme.

If people have their own livestock, they don’t go into protected areas looking for meat; if they produce and sell their own coffee, they have enough income to buy meat and don’t need to go poaching. Targeted resources will be dedicated to alternative livelihood programmes, to curtail levels of poaching.

The policy also seeks to strengthen implementation of education and awareness programmes using both traditional and modern approaches. For example, people are still caught hunting in protected areas but claim they don’t know such hunting is illegal. Others do not understand the potential benefits they could accrue from helping to protect wildlife. Others do not understand the fines and penalties involved. So there’s a big focus on educating local people.

But, most importantly, the policy recognises that its success will lie in working closely with key local stakeholders – most notably civil society organisations and district local governments.

Q: What’s particularly innovative about the new policy?

GO: The policy’s mechanisms on capacity building to respond to poaching are very progressive. It seeks to build the capacity of community members – who’ll be known as community informants or scouts – to help with intelligence gathering. This hasn’t been done before. We will create incentives for communities to work with us to provide wildlife crime intelligence, and provide them with all the necessary training.

We also want to build the capacity of our own staff working to implement community conservation programmes around the wildlife parks and reserves. Community conservation staff collect a lot of information as part of their routine work, but in some cases may not share this information with law enforcement, intelligence agencies or even our own investigation departments.

The policy seeks to harmonise our internal processes so there is stronger, coordinated, and systematic interdepartmental co-operation. Traditionally, law enforcement has taken the lead and played a critical role, but now we want community conservation to complement their efforts to curtail poaching and address conflicts while promoting community development.

Q: Do you think this policy could inspire other countries in the region, in East Africa, or even internationally?

GO: Uganda is signatory to the East African Community Treaty (1999) under which countries are obliged to work together to promote development and protect natural resources – especially transboundary resources. The community-centric policies we’re implementing in Uganda could offer important lessons for other East African countries especially in the management of transboundary protected areas. There’s real opportunity to leverage this treaty and influence countries from the region to make communities part of their conservation efforts.

Uganda together with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda signed the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration Treaty in 2015. One of the key guiding principles under Article 5(c) of the treaty is to promote intervention that will ensure poverty reduction and sustainable livelihood improvement around the wildlife protected areas in the Greater Virunga Landscape.

DRC and Rwanda stand a chance of benefiting from Uganda’s diverse experience in community engagement and benefit-sharing programmes.

A community-based wildlife crime prevention action plan has been created for Queen Elizabeth National Park (Photo: Jocelyn Saurini, via Flickr (CC BY 2.0))

Q. The policy talks about creating a wildlife crime prevention action plan. How does this relate to the community-based wildlife crime prevention action plans created for Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park? Does it replace them or build on them?

GO: For two years now we’ve been implementing community-based wildlife crime prevention action plans around Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth following a project with support from IIED. We’ve learnt through this initiative that communities are very willing to work with us to tackle wildlife crime.

So, we’re building on this experience and recognising the utility of these action plans in our new community conservation policy. We hope to scale up and develop these plans for other protected areas in Uganda where wildlife crime is a problem.

Q: Now on to COVID-19. How has the pandemic affected community conservation work?

GO: It’s certainly a difficult time. The community conservation work involves regular meetings and consultations with community members. But the lockdown and social distancing measures prevent us from such gatherings, so our work is brought to a standstill.

Many communities benefit from tourism while supporting conservation. Last year alone we gave out over UGX 10 billion (around US$2 million) to local communities under the revenue sharing programme for development projects around several parks including Bwindi, Murchison Falls, Kibale and Lake Mburo. The revenue was from wildlife-based tourism.  

But with COVID-19, our community conservation wardens haven’t been able to give the much-needed on-the-ground support and supervision we normally provide. With social distancing measures, we cannot tell whether these programmes are being implemented as planned to improve people’s wellbeing and ensure biodiversity conservation.

Tourism, more broadly, is of course taking a huge hit. This will affect the amount of funding available for tourism revenue sharing next year. On average, UWA is losing around UGX 7bn ($1.8 million) per month due to the outbreak and subsequent lockdown.

For example, the usually busy and thriving Buhoma community around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park currently has no tourists at all. Similarly, the Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) around Bigodi village Kibale National Park used to generate over UGX 300 million annually from tourism – this has dropped to zero practically overnight.

We’re also concerned about a spike in poaching – communities claim that because of the lockdown they do not have enough food; they’re not working and they’re going hungry. Around Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park we’re hearing reports of people laying snares to capture animals for food.

All this is derailing the good work we’ve done on anti-poaching. For example, between only February and May this year, we have recorded 367 suspects (531 suspects) compared to 163 cases (255 suspects) during the same period last year. This is not a good for us as a country and we have to work hard to reverse the situation. We need support and cooperation not only from local communities but also local and international partners.

Q: So, what’s next for the policy?

GO: Uganda Wildlife Authority hopes to launch the community conservation policy later this year in Kampala when it becomes safe to host a small gathering of colleagues. If you want more information on the new policy, email or

IIED has been providing support to UWA as part of the ‘Implementing park action plans for community engagement to tackle illegal wildlife trade’ project funded by UK Aid. As part of this project, community conservation wardens receive peer-led training that strengthens their skills in engaging people living around Uganda’s protected areas in conservation activities.

Can the impact of COVID-19 unite coalitions of young and old?

Tue, 21/07/2020 - 06:04

Guest blogger Michelle Winthrop discusses whether acute global challenges can drive intergenerational solidarity, helping to get the needs and rights of the young and old met.

Last month, Ireland celebrated Cruinniú na nÓg, an annual event to stimulate and showcase young people’s creativity in the arts. This year, under COVID-19 restrictions, the celebration saw a wealth of online collaboration – in art, music and literature. It was a sharp reminder of how we need to cherish our young during these challenging times.

We have also seen a great reaction to the Home School Hub, an initiative of our national broadcaster (RTÉ) to bring the classroom into living rooms across the country. My children watched with interest a report about how, during the pandemic, young students in Sierra Leone – using systems set up during the Ebola crisis – have been remote learning through radio.

The programme reinforced how, while children’s circumstances might differ, the common challenge being out of school can create an early sense of solidarity and interconnectedness.

Virus takes its toll on ‘class of 2020’

This is all very positive and shows how innovation can prevail in challenging circumstances. But for many millions, the picture is not so rosy.

Globally there are more than 1 billion children whose schooling has been severely disrupted by COVID-19. It may be some years before we really understand what the impact on children in the ‘class of 2020’ will be.

Aside from educational disruption, there are issues around mental health, spikes in domestic abuse, and the risk of millions of girls dropping out of school indefinitely as household, livelihood and caregiving duties take priority. An estimated 10 million adolescent girls globally may not continue their education after pandemic restrictions are lifted.

There are solutions, such as social protection systems to incentivise continued school attendance. And some civil society organisations (CSOs) are carrying out progressive work to understand the wider social impacts of the disruption on young people. Now, more than ever, we need to safeguard our children, and ensure their futures are secure.

Of course, those of us in the climate movement have been closely observing the role of young people in climate activism, and more recently in the Black Lives Matter movement. This youth engagement is fantastic, and chimes with a programme at the heart of Ireland’s Development Education, committing to nurture ‘global citizenship’ among young Irish people, to embrace diversity, understand better global development issues, and encourage activism in schools, universities and in civic space.

While there has been some youth activism on the impacts of COVID-19, it has been less visible due to social distancing measures, and the dominance of the Black Lives Matter movement. That said, Black Lives Matter has been an opportunity to raise the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people of colour.

Older people: vulnerable, excluded and overlooked

How intergenerational trade-offs and collaborations play out has also been a concern of the climate and environment community. The basic principle that older people are empowered to make decisions that will directly impact their children, grandchildren and future generations has been articulated frequently and vehemently, particularly among climate activists.

That said, COVID-19 has altered that dynamic in communities around the world, where older people have been disproportionately affected.

In many developed countries discussions have opened up around how we care for the elderly, and whether we could have looked after them better at the peak of the pandemic. Again, it may take time before we understand the mental health impacts of cocooning an entire generation and cutting them off from their families for months on end, despite that being the right thing to do for public health reasons.

In developing countries there are far more worrying trends at play. HelpAge has raised concerns in the World Health Organization, the European Union and other forums about broader impacts on the elderly, such as exclusion from regular public health services, on account of fears they are COVID-19 carriers.

There has been a spike in violence against older people, especially older women. And of course, the collapse in livelihood systems in many places raises sharp concerns about deprivation and malnutrition among older people.

Social protection systems are struggling to respond quickly enough to the emerging deprivation, often lacking the scope and flexibility needed to tackle these trends. And there is further pressure for these systems to extend coverage to the estimated 4 billion people without access. Greater investment is needed.

During this pandemic, the voices of the elderly are going unheard as the shrinking space for civil society in many countries impacts the ability of CSOs to advocate for older people’s rights.

Rallying together

Governments, in developing countries, as well as wealthier ones, need to get behind CSOs and national and local level coalitions that champion the rights of young and older people, supporting these two groups to influence policies that affect them.

Many women’s organisations help to get access to a range of public services including health, care support, education and social protection, and are key to addressing gender-based and domestic violence, and discrimination against elderly women. Given the prevalence of multi-generational household units, these organisations successful in bringing intergenerational issues to the surface. 

COVID-19 has been challenging for so many. And we know such challenges – especially to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, but also in tackling the climate emergency and dealing with future pandemics – will persist.

But these could be opportunities for intergenerational solidarity like we’ve never seen before.

These are moments for the young and old to harness their experience and energy and get the needs and rights, including of the furthest behind in all our societies, heard loud and clear. 

What does the Paris Agreement’s transparency framework mean for LDCs?

Mon, 20/07/2020 - 12:34

Join IIED on Tuesday, 4 August for a webinar to discuss how least developed countries are proactively working at national level to put the goals of the Paris Agreement into practice. This online event will focus on their experiences of the implications of the new transparency framework for LDC practitioners.

The Paris Agreement offers a global framework to work together to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The implementation of the agreement – which officially starts in 2020 – is critical to increase ambition, achieve net-zero emissions and improve climate resilience.

Least developed countries (LDCs) are the most affected by climate change, yet contribute the least to it. Undeterred by this unfair burden, they are proactively working at national level to put the goals of the Paris Agreement into practice. They are designing long-term, low-carbon development strategies, reporting on progress towards their mitigation and adaptation actions, and finding new solutions to the adverse effects of climate change.

This webinar is the first in a series bringing together practitioners from LDCs with global practitioners, technical experts and other stakeholders to share their experiences in implementing frameworks and national policies, including the opportunities and challenges in bringing the Paris Agreement to life. Speakers will also share how COVID-19 has affected implementation activities.

The Paris Agreement establishes a new framework, common to all countries, to track progress towards achieving their global emission reduction commitments. This new transparency framework is crucial to build trust and confidence among countries, increase ambition and encourage the climate action needed to limit warming to 1.5C.

This enhanced set of reporting rules present the LDCs with new technical and financial challenges, but may also offer new opportunities to build capacities, enhance national monitoring systems and improve domestic policies.

Based on the experience of current transparency arrangements, this webinar aims to increase understanding of the implications of the new framework for the LDC practitioners. It will focus on sharing experiences and lessons learned from implementation of the present reporting framework that could inform the upcoming process.

It will include an overview from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat of the new reporting requirements and the views of LDC national experts from Malawi, Liberia and Sudan working on their countries’ reporting processes.

LDCs and the Paris Agreement: moving from international commitments to national implementation

Mon, 20/07/2020 - 09:23
A series of webinars will bring together participants from least developed countries to discuss their strategies to implement the Paris Agreement and share their diverse experiences and lessons learned.

The Paris Agreement offers a global framework to work together to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Paris Agreement implementation officially kicks off this year and to achieve its goals, it’s critical that we increase ambition, achieve net-zero emissions and improve climate resilience. 

A new IIED webinar series, launching at the start of August, will bring together practitioners from least developed countries (LDCs) with global practitioners, technical experts and other stakeholders to share their experiences in implementing the Paris Agreement in their national frameworks and policies. Participants will also explore the opportunities and challenges in bringing the agreement to life. 

The LDCs are both the most affected by climate change and the smallest contributors to it, yet they are still proactively working at national level to put the goals of the Paris Agreement into practice. LDCs are leading global ambition on climate action: designing long-term, low-carbon development strategies, reporting on progress towards their mitigation and adaptation actions, and finding new solutions to the consequences of climate change.

Speakers in the webinar series will share experiences and updates from their own countries, reporting on progress since the agreement’s ratification in 2016, and consider how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected work on their implementation activities.  

The first webinar will take place on Tuesday, 4 August (11am-12pm GMT+1) and will discuss 'What does the Paris Agreement’s transparency framework mean for the least developed countries?

Based on the experience of current transparency arrangements, which is how countries monitor, review and verify their climate actions under the UNFCCC, this webinar aims to increase understanding of the implications of the new framework for LDC practitioners.

The conversation will focus on sharing lessons learned from implementation of the present reporting framework that could inform the upcoming process. It will include an overview from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat on new reporting requirements and contributions from  experts from Malawi, Liberia and Sudan working on their countries’ reporting processes. 

Register for the webinar

The second webinar on 'Experience sharing on long-term strategies in least developed countries' will take place on Thursday, 13 August (12-1.30pm GMT+1) and will focus on the experiences of LDCs currently in the process of developing their long-term strategies

Not only will this showcase the unique opportunities coming out of the process, but it will facilitate a dialogue among LDC practitioners on the common challenges and concerns they face.

The final webinar, hosted by IIED in partnership with the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) on Tuesday, 8 September (11am-12.30pm GMT+1), will examine 'Loss and damage – research, policy and lived experience in LDCs'. 

This discussion will feature  LDC national experts sharing their lived experiences of loss and damage, and to ensure that loss and damage remains a priority issue in the lead up to and at COP26.

All three webinars will use the online Zoom video conferencing platform, and more details are available or will follow on the individual event and registration pages.

Three pillars for food system change: inclusivity, joint vision and long-term commitment

Thu, 16/07/2020 - 06:31

A new paper identifies three key ingredients multi-actor initiatives need to drive change in the food system.

Changing the food system, with its many moving parts and multitude of actors, requires bringing together diverse views in a meaningful and productive way.

The Hivos-IIED Sustainable Diets for All (SD4All) programme has championed multi-actor initiatives as a tool for helping drive the change needed – in particular, initiatives that consciously and continually engage stakeholders, and that are agile enough to adjust to ongoing learning.

We’ve documented the results of three initiatives – the Food Parliament in Uganda, the Food Change Lab in Zambia, and the La Paz Food Council in Bolivia – in a new reflection paper. The paper highlights aspects of these initiatives that did and didn’t work, and provides actionable recommendations for people designing similar initiatives, both within and beyond the SD4All programme.

Here are the top three lessons:

1. Be inclusive

Inclusivity is number one. Marginalised groups, including small-scale producers and low-income consumers – especially women – must be involved. These key actors, whose voices are rarely heard in policymaking, are crucial in linking policy with local realities.

We must listen to how people translate big system issues into what matters to them. Government officials and private sector actors should also play their part in clarifying policies and policymaking processes that affect the food system.

Being inclusive also means recognising people’s different – and changing – roles and realities. The Food Parliament in Uganda – where farmers, traders, vendors, cooks, hotel and restaurant owners can come together to talk about their food and diet related problems – made clear that a single occupation rarely feeds an entire family; people tend to have multiple jobs either at the same time or from season to season.

So, one person might identify with a number of roles – they don’t fall neatly under one job category, as society often has us believe. Immaculate Yossa Daisy, regional advocacy manager for Hivos East Africa, explained: “It is not uncommon to find a teacher, accountant, or development practitioner doubling up as a commercial farmer, agribusiness entrepreneur or politician.

"The experiences of these different facets of life shape conversations and actions in multi-actor initiatives and are important to consider in discussions about inclusivity”.

2. Have a clear vision and adjust your process as you go

Be clear on the change you want to achieve and sequence the initiative’s activities and methods strategically, depending on how you envision that change will unfold. For example, do certain stakeholders first require training to participate meaningfully in an activity?

Thinking through such questions will help you take the next step towards the desired change. Stay flexible and don’t be afraid to switch gears. Continually monitor your progress and make adjustments as needed.

William Chilufya, regional advocacy manager for Hivos Southern Africa, saw clear examples of this in the Zambia Food Change Lab. He noted that “although a process might start out with a well-thought-out design, or an open mind (and design), it’s important to be flexible based on what emerges. When new partners with a national focus joined the lab, we recognised that many problems couldn’t be solved locally, and we needed to shift from a local focus in Chongwe District to a national one in Lusaka".

This shift was the right move – but it did make it more challenging to identify when change was happening, and the drivers for that change.

3. Invest for the long term

Design the platform so ownership can be transferred from the founding organisation to a local one. This is important for long-term sustainability and commitment of participants. Multi-actor processes need time and resources to develop a joint vision and inclusive governance structure, and to co-create and test out concrete actions to keep up momentum. Donors need to be open to investing in long-term processes when potential results cannot be defined upfront.

In the case of the Food Council in Bolivia, uncertainty about who is leading the change process and whether this will evolve over time has given rise to questions about the sustainability of the food councils. Will the founding organisation Fundación Alternativas transfer ownership of the food councils, and if so, to whom, how and when? Passing on ownership would require capacity building well beyond a training event or a presentation.

The complexity of building collective ownership when diverse actors are involved also became clear. Maria Teresa Nogales, executive director of Fundación Alternativas, acknowledged that “meaningful and participatory policy processes do not happen from one day to the next; they evolve and more often than not, they respond to democratic cultures that are fostered over time”.

Bringing it all together

Connecting the various actors of the food system can bring about transformation. We’ve seen first-hand that inviting everyone to engage in these initiatives together encourages a deeper understanding of others’ perspectives, interests, and lived experiences.

Furthermore, when decision-makers take on challenges alongside other stakeholders, desired advocacy changes in agenda setting, policymaking and practices are often achieved.

But as the three case studies illustrate, there is no one, single way of developing or implementing multi-actor initiatives – they take many forms, follow different processes, and engage with very different stakeholders.

The key to real change is making inclusivity, joint vision and long-term commitment pillars of the initiative.

Why we need to plug the climate information gap in social protection schemes

Wed, 15/07/2020 - 06:33

Timely flow of climate information under the MGNREGS social protection programme could reliably warn communities of impending crises. Being prepared to respond to hazards can dramatically reduce risks of livelihood loss for India’s rural poor.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) is one of India’s largest social protection programmes. It provides a safety net to poor families by assuring 100 days of unskilled manual wage employment per year to every registered rural household.

Work under the programme includes constructing assets to conserve water and develop land such as farm ponds, check dams and field bunds. These practices can help farmers produce fodder for their animals, and with more water available they can grow double the number of crops on their land – increasing yields significantly.

MGNREGS has been pitted as one of India’s most successful social protection programmes. And the stats hold up well: around 256 million rural workers are registered and benefiting.

But could MGNREGS do even better? Could the high levels of investment – more than US $9 billion per year – deliver even more for India’s rural poor?

Mind the climate information gap

With its huge population and high levels of poverty, climate change is hitting India hard. For MGNREGS to be truly effective, it must support rural households adapt to climate change and build resilience to the impacts.

The programme does take climate change into account – allocating 50 additional days of wage employment in areas affected by hazards such as droughts, floods and cyclones. However, new evidence from IIED from across four districts in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, shows few MGNREGS officials or rural households are using information about current or future weather and the climate in their MGNREGS decisions.

Climate information services are important climate risk management tools that can support rural households to deal with escalating climate risks. They can provide data to make more informed and more robust decisions on climate hazards, including probability and scale.

Effective use of climate information can support people to adjust to potential harm more proactively or take advantage of new opportunities presented by climate change.

Currently, Indian institutions and systems responsible for generating and providing climate information (such as the probability of drought in the upcoming monsoon season) are not formally set up to enable MGNREGS officials and households to use it to inform their wage or asset decisions.  

Although traditional and local knowledge is used, it means MGNREGS may not be allocating additional employment days or placing and constructing assets using the best knowledge on likely weather in the upcoming season, or the likely changes in the weather over the coming years and decades due to climate change.

IIED’s research found that there are delays of four to six months in governments officially declaring drought. This leads to delays in sanctioning 50 additional days of wage employment that would help families cope and recover during this critical period.

Aiding short-term response, longer-term planning

If accurate and timely climate information is available, MGNREGS can allocate additional employment days, and in good time. This gives people security, and peace of mind that they will not have to distress migrate, even if their crops are destroyed.

Furthermore, if they have information about imminent drought, farmers can plan ahead – choosing the right crop variety, such as those that can survive water stress. These crops can create enough produce to tide farmers over, even during times of drought. 

With longer-term climate information and processes to understand the range of possible future climate change scenarios (for example, increased frequencies of drought, high-intensity rainfall days, cyclones and hailstorms) that may manifest over the next decade, villagers can make more robust decisions on the type, quality and location of assets they will build under MGNREGS – such as assets to prevent soil erosion, for harvesting water and to revive river flows.

A joined up approach

All this calls for a mechanism that supports the smooth and timely flow of climate information. Currently, weather and climate-related data are collected and analysed by a number of agencies that operate under different ministries and organisations. This inhibits coordination of efforts to make this information available to those who need it in time.

A climate information flow and governance mechanism could weave together the different agencies responsible for collection, analysis and forecast. A central agency such as the Ministry of Rural Development, under which MGNREGS is implemented, would be well placed to develop and run such a mechanism.

The mechanism could:

  1. Help develop drought vulnerability assessments in a user-friendly format that villagers can understand, allowing them to apply the information and blend it with traditional climate knowledge. Ultimately, village communities are responsible for planning and delivery under MGNREGS.
  2. Help climate information reach the state government and villages in good time. For example, villagers need climate information in April to plan for the additional 50 days and select which crops to grow; state government needs climate information by peak crisis periods (June-August) if it is to declare drought in time for villagers to respond accordingly.
  3. Support a decision-making framework that will help decide the most appropriate response, depending on the probability of drought. This will help the state government, villagers and MGNREGS functionaries act in a timely manner.
Breaking the cycle of vulnerability

MGNREGS has real potential to help India’s rural poor cope with climate variability by providing early recovery support through wages. This, in turn, can improve access to stronger assets and help develop more diversified crop production systems.

With this support, farmers and farm labourers can maintain or improve their living standards without compromising their long-term prospects when climatic shocks and stresses occur.

Timely climate and weather information along with appropriate decision-making tools at local level – and a central body to lead it – could be instrumental in strengthening MGNREGS’ contribution to building long-term climate resilience.

Time to move unseen foresters into the limelight

Tue, 14/07/2020 - 06:58

A new report spotlights alternative approaches by which sustainable forest management can deliver more for indigenous people and local communities.

Globally, forests are home to 1.3 billion indigenous peoples and other local communities (IPLCs), including farmers and even forest-product processing clusters on the outskirts of urban areas. 

But these communities are often unseen and their important role unaccounted for when rights to forests are decided. A new report from WWF, researched by IIED, shows that sustainable forest management (SFM) benefits when communities living in and around forests, and those who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods, have the right rights and incentives. 

Their local models of governance can help protect forests better than many other forms of forest stewardship.

A deeper analytical focus on the means by which SFM can deliver more for IPLCs, to find greater scale and success, is long overdue. More collective power to build agency and prosperity is perhaps the last hope for forests – and for the people who depend on them. 

Our new report – 'Unseen foresters: an assessment of approaches for wider recognition and spread of sustainable forest management by local communities – aims to step back from the approach of making SFM work for international markets and provides evidence of alternative approaches that address SFM in both local and global contexts.

Billions of dollars have been poured into international timber trade agreements, tropical forest action plans, SFM certification schemes, forest legality assurance schemes, payments for ecosystem services (PES) and zero-deforestation pledges. Such market-based approaches have helped to improve some elements of large corporate sustainability. But the loss of biodiverse natural forests and land tenure issues related to IPLCs continues.  

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Paris climate agreement, and New York Declaration on Forests suggest change is needed for a cleaner, fairer future. The calls to ‘build back better’ after COVID-19 imply the same. 'Unseen foresters' shows there is a huge variety of innovative approaches that can enable people to thrive and forests to flourish. 

Conservative estimates of the gross annual value of smallholder crop, fuelwood and charcoal, timber and non-timber forest products lie between US$869 billion and $1.29 trillion. This is substantially larger than the gross annual value of the largest companies, such as Exxon Mobil ($265 billion in 2019) or Nestlé and Unilever ($150 billion combined). Mobilising the collective potential of IPLCs towards SFM requires coordinated and sustained enabling investments by multiple agencies. 

Among forest communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, we found 13 approaches that can help recognise and spread SFM by IPLCs, as the diagram below illustrates.

Examples include Global Positioning System (GPS)-enabled mapping to secure community forest rights in the Congo Basin, satellite-based remote sensing tree cover reward mechanisms that channel finance to communities conditional on protecting the forest in the Amazon, and participatory guarantee schemes that reduce the costs of certifying SFM for non-timber forest products such as rattan as we found in Borneo.

There is a logic to the way in which each can be built upon one another in concentric rings of opportunity. At the core come approaches that strengthen accountable organisations. These include expanding the practices of local SFM production groups, regional organisations that aggregate, process and market products, and national federations that defend IPLC rights.

Next come approaches that improve landscape governance: the rights and responsibilities of land and resource use and rewards for adopting SFM. Finally come supply chain approaches that can improve business returns for IPLCs from their SFM.  

This diagram shows 13 approaches that can support sustainable forest management. Click on the image to enlarge it

Better understanding of how these approaches can build on one another in different contexts can increase positive impacts on forests and people. For example, participatory GPS-enabled mapping of rights can provide the security needed for SFM. This can then be further incentivised through remote sensing tree cover reward mechanisms.

But at present, most approaches are found only in isolated pilot sites, so the power of their combined efficacy is reduced. 

Sustainable forest management by IPLCs, including smallholders, is critical to the future of forests. Coordinated action among multiple agencies is needed through innovative approaches that can deliver the transformative change necessary to protect both forests and people. It is time to put the spotlight on supporting and rewarding IPLCs.

This blog first appeared on WWF's Forest Solutions Platform

Bringing urban refugees into local planning

Fri, 10/07/2020 - 09:40

Can we move from emergency to developmental response to the large and growing numbers of refugees living in urban areas by bringing them into local planning processes?

Other blogs in this series have examined historical trends in urbanisation and unpacked the local, national and international factors that influence how populations are distributed. As David Satterthwaite notes, investment decisions by national, regional and global enterprises drive urban change by attracting economic migrants. So too do people’s individual decisions on whether they move and where to.

While at global level their numbers are not as significant, forced migrants are also contributing to urban change. Conflict and other forms of violence push people to move – becoming internally displaced people (IDPs) or refugees (if they cross a border).

The media and humanitarian actors often use images of remote camps as a visual shorthand for refugees and displaced people. But the majority of displaced people are in urban areas. Statistics on urban IDPs are unreliable, but the UN refugee agency UNHCR estimates that around 60% of all refugees globally are in towns and cities. This is up from approximately 15% in 2003 (PDF).

The Syrian refugee crisis has accelerated urbanisation of global refugee populations. Over 5.6 million Syrians have fled to neighbouring countries since conflict broke out in 2011, primarily into Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. For a variety of political, historical and logistical reasons, camps were not built at scale and most refugees live in urban areas.

False assumptions

The response has been something of an anomaly, as these refugees are outside of camps but still receive assistance. Generally, despite popular beliefs, urban refugees receive very little or no assistance at all – either from the UN or the national government. They are often conveniently assumed to be ‘self-reliant’ – people who have made the choice to leave or bypass a camp, who must therefore be able to make it in the big city.

But as with economic migrants, a variety of push and pull factors influence refugees’ decisions on where to settle. Even in countries where refugees are legally required to live in camps, many will find ways to move to urban areas. Assumptions of self-reliance are blind to the harsh realities of urban living and the difficulties for many refugees in finding paid work.

IIED research in Kampala and Nairobi shows the struggle to access basic services, particularly healthcare. Refugees face language barriers in explaining their needs and medical conditions, and extortion from healthcare workers. In East Africa, refugees have been further stigmatised by politicians blaming neighbouring countries for ‘importing’ COVID-19.

Accessing housing as a non-citizen is also challenging – who you know and where you come from matter when negotiating access to shelter in an informal settlement. Refugees, particularly those without documentation, are vulnerable to predatory landlords who take advantage of the threat of deportation or fines from authorities.

A growing humanitarian caseload and diminishing global resources have led to increased emphasis among donor governments and humanitarian actors on refugee ‘self-reliance’ and is a central tenet of the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees.

Integrating self-reliance into local planning

But the concept of self-reliance needs a rethink. Many interventions designed to promote self-reliance focus on livelihoods, but a growing body of research points to non-economic factors.  

Critically, any attempt to foster self-reliance at scale is likely to fail if it operates outside of local planning and governance frameworks. County governments in Kenya have recognised the positive contributions to the rural economy of refugees in Dadaab and Kakuma camps, and are now drawing up integrated development plans.

Nairobi has yet to follow suit – although finding ways to support and build on the economic activities of refugees in urban areas will be considerably more complicated and politically sensitive.

However, displaced people are moving to and changing urban areas. The gaze of humanitarian agencies and donor governments should be following them. The potential for self-reliance and the positive impacts on the local economy will be greater in towns and cities, given the number and range of opportunities available.

Returning to the Syrian refugee crisis, it is worth noting that many small and medium-sized towns underwent massive demographic shifts as refugees began to cross borders. In Lebanon, some urban populations more than doubled in a very short space of time. In Zaatari town, Jordan, residents increased from 5,000 to 10,000 between 2011 and 2016, and Al-Mafraq’s population doubled to 73,500.

Municipalities faced overloaded public services without additional resources, generating tensions between refugees and their ‘hosts’. Despite this, it took many years before the international community began to recognise this as a problem they should be dealing with, and even longer before assistance was actually channelled to local authorities.

This lack of attention to maintaining adequate levels of urban services reflects the emergency mindset of those who plan humanitarian response. Their approaches were developed in rural areas, often with encamped populations, and tended to target individuals or households rather than areas where people were settled find themselves.  

Unpacking ‘self-reliance’  

There is thus a double incentive for urban local authorities to give greater attention to the displaced people who have sought sanctuary among their constituents.

Firstly, displaced people often bring skills, experience and a determination to thrive. They have explicitly chosen to move to towns and cities to pursue opportunities available there, and in a supportive policy environment can make a real contribution to the local economy. While local integration for IDPs, given they are citizens, may seem more straightforward than for refugees, they are often marginalised, particularly if they come from minority ethnic groups.  

Secondly, displacement crises potentially attract humanitarian resources that could contribute to local development. Much needs to change within the international aid system before we have a world where towns and cities are encouraged and supported to provide sanctuary to people displaced by conflict.

In the meantime, new research from IIED will examine the intersections between local development and the ‘displacement economies’ generated by refugees, returnees and IDPs.

We will ask refugees and other displaced people what being ‘self-reliant’ means to them, and look at the role that individual and collective well-being, alongside refugees’ and IDPs’ economic activity, play in achieving self-reliance in urban areas. And we will be working with federations of the urban poor to increase their focus on displaced people living in informal settlements, and to bring the views of these less visible populations into existing channels of engagement with municipal authorities.

We’ll be sharing our findings in the coming years.

Working with informality for more resilient, equitable responses to COVID-19

Fri, 10/07/2020 - 06:10

In this second report in our series setting out key lessons from the coronavirus pandemic, we highlight the need for COVID-19 responses that work with the informal sector.

Beyond COVID-19: grassroots visions of change

This article is part of a new IIED series that brings together forward-looking responses on specific themes in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, drawing on our partners’ insights and providing a platform for voices from the global South.

In the first instalment of this series, Alice Sverdlik outlined how practical responses to COVID-19 are being produced in informal settlements. Here, George Masimba Nyama and Patience Mudimu, from our partners at Dialogue on Shelter Trust in Zimbabwe, and Anna Walnycki consider the need for COVID-19 responses that work with the informal sector to promote resilience and equality.

COVID-19 has acute social, economic, and public health impacts globally, but it disproportionately affects informal, low-income communities in the global South. Lockdowns are an exceptional exertion of state authority, but they reflect an extension of local and national politics. In Zimbabwe, the pandemic response represents a continuation of hostility towards informality settlements and the informal sector. Lockdowns have not been designed to respond to the inequalities that exacerbate the impacts of COVID-19 on the poorest communities. 

Similar to other nations, the response presumes adequate living space, access to affordable basic services, and social safety nets. Instead many households depend on informal employment, live in crowded settlements with unreliable, shared access to water and sanitation. Households tend not to have sufficient enough savings or access to healthcare. In short, many residents of informal settlements lack the resources to survive without defying COVID-19 lockdown orders.

Life under lockdown in Harare

The local authorities in Zimbabwe have continued demolitions in informal settlements leaving people homeless during this COVID-19 lockdowns. Find out more in this visual story by the Zimbabwe Young Peoples' Federation.

Our understanding of the spread of COVID-19 in Africa and informal settlements is limited, but it is increasingly clear that COVID-19 can take different shapes and forms in different contexts. COVID-19 is unfolding in the context of Zimbabwe’s existing political, economic and environmental shocks and stresses.

As such, it is important to understand the interrelated aspects of urban resilience that are central to addressing the immediate needs of informal communities, while promoting more equitable urbanisation. Local stakeholders and organised communities are well placed to co-produce contextualised responses along the following lines, particularly as we learn more about transmission. 

Working with the informal sector to promote tenure security: Zimbabwe’s Operation Murambatsvina in 2005 demonstrated how, despite the government’s best efforts, evictions and demolitions cannot destroy informality. Informal settlements and economies will re-emerge in a different form. Forced evictions and demolitions of Harare’s informal settlements and markets have been pursued in response to COVID-19, but this has been counterproductive, leading to increased levels of homelessness and disrupting access to food and essential goods.

The informal sector plays a key role in providing housing, services, jobs and food for low-income groups in Zimbabwe, suggesting important inter-dependencies with the formal sector. Responses to COVID-19 need to support informal service providers and workers, particularly those providing essential services.

Community action, participation, and political voice: Communities can develop contextually appropriate strategies for physical distancing in informal settlements, and ensure higher levels of compliance. This could include more effective use of public spaces, community shielding, quarantine, group solidarities, care at the community level, and the promotion of much needed livelihood activities. They are well placed to collect reliable local data on COVID-19 impacts, share accurate information and counteract misinformation on COVID-19 in informal settlements.

Beyond an emergency response (improving access to basic services): The current COVID-19 pandemic is taking a huge toll in countries with poor basic service and health infrastructure. Most informal settlements in Harare do not have access to mainline water services. Where settlements are connected, supplies are often intermittent or contaminated.

Dialogue on Shelter Trust are already redesigning existing water points to accommodate COVID-19 risks to maintain higher levels of hygiene practices. To maintain COVID-19 hygiene standards, water, sanitation and hygiene facilities need to be mapped. Where clean water is unavailable, water needs to be trucked into communities and chlorination packs can be distributed.

In the short to medium term, better coordination of borehole use and widespread water quality testing could improve access. In the longer term, settlements require investments in mini-grids, or access to the mainline network. This requires reducing non-revenue water, providing subsidised access and supporting  community driven and community-public-private collaborations. Communities have also been responding started producing PPEs and detergents, thereby enhancing chances for promoting personal hygiene for limiting transmissions. 

The global geography of world cities

Thu, 09/07/2020 - 06:47

Various lists and indicators are used to determine which cities are deemed ‘world cities’. David Satterthwaite examines four lists of different indicators and discusses which cities come out on top.

What are termed ‘world’ cities or ‘global’ cities command and control the world economy, and are centres for transnational corporations (TNCs). They are mostly among the world’s wealthy cities; if not, they are at least among the wealthiest in their nation.

But the cities from where TNCs produce their goods are often not wealthy. Dhaka is a clothes manufacturing hub for global brands yet TNCs do not have headquarters there. When global brands cut their businesses, it is the million or so workers in Dhaka who are laid off.

Global cities play a key role in the world economy – but the playing field is increasingly unequal. Most cities are not able to engage seriously in global or regional contests for corporate headquarters. Some may be able to attract investment in production, especially where wages are very low. But being far from major trunk transport, communications and other infrastructure prevent them from genuinely competing. 

There are many lists that rank cities by indicators – such as gross domestic product (GDP), GDP per capita or housing affordability. Cities are also ranked using composite indicators measuring, for instance, business environment or quality of life (or subsets of this). Some lists relate more directly to ‘global’ or ‘world’ city economies.

Here, we look at four of these lists – cities ranked by:

  • Their concentration of advanced producer services (accountancy, advertising, banking/finance, law)
  • Their number of TNC headquarters and their size and economic performance
  • Scores on global financial services, and
  • A composite indicator including scores on business activity, human capital, information exchange, cultural experience and political engagement.

Table 1 below presents lists of the top 20 cities, ranked under these categories.

“Public officers are also human beings”: trust and environmental governance

Wed, 08/07/2020 - 06:13

Turning legal frameworks into real agents for environmental change can depend on understanding complex human stories. Guest blogger Paula Ungar reports from Colombia. 

In the modern, artificially lit meeting room, two old campesino leaders – wearing their impeccable felt hats and white woollen ponchos – watched serenely as officers of the Regional Environmental Office and my colleague and I heatedly argued for more than three hours.

We were debating the request by the campesinos, or peasant farmers, for their land to be acknowledged as a Campesino Reserve Zone (CRZ). My colleague is a geographer, and we were both working as independent consultants. We were arguing for the CRZ, which also had support from an influential international agency, but it was being strongly questioned by the Colombian government. 

A CRZ is an area of land adjudicated to rural peasants to protect it from land grabbing and thereby prevent further expansion of the agricultural frontier into natural areas owned by the state.

The campesino organisation had gone through an eight-year participatory process and had complied with all the legal requirements to get their land declared as a CRZ. But now their request was facing strong opposition from environmental authorities. 

The main argument of the environmental authority (CAR, for its initials in Spanish) was that 78% of the requested CRZ was inside a páramo. Páramos are upper mountain ecosystems, extraordinary in terms of their biodiversity, and key for the provision of water for most of Colombia’s population (Spanish language site).

In 2015, páramos had been defined by a controversial law as strict preservation areas, where most forms of agriculture and cattle were forbidden, and mining was totally prohibited – even though most páramos have been inhabited and cultivated for centuries.

We argued that the campesinos' land in the Sumapaz páramo was in a good conservation state after decades of human presence, and that the strength of their organisation was an asset for environmental governance. But CAR maintained that within the applicable legal framework, it made no sense to permit the establishment of a CRZ in a páramo

A few months after our meeting, the request was formally denied by the National Land Agency’s directive council, with the decision based on similar legal arguments.

Only a couple of months after this refusal, in 2018, parliament passed a new páramos law. Acknowledging the long tradition of mountain community governance and use, this law specifies that páramos management must be carried out jointly by authorities and communities, that agriculture can take place (high-impact activities have to transit into low-impact, with governmental support), and that decision-making must be the result of transdisciplinary and intercultural collaborations. 

One would think that with the introduction of this law, the outlook was much better – not only for the campesinos Sumapaz but also for the tens of thousands of people who live in Colombian páramos or depend on their use.

Other stories

But other storylines were playing out in the meeting room where I started this blog, ones that were not communicated in the official PowerPoint slides, in the documents with institutional letterheads, or in the explicit arguments. 

These storylines are about enormous challenges that persist for inclusive governance of páramos, and more generally for collaborative governance in the global South, even with inclusive conservation laws.

Sumapaz, like most páramos in Colombia, is inhabited by families that came to the upper mountains searching for land, often fleeing civil war, in a country with some of the world’s most unequal land distribution. Páramos inhabitants have on average much lower access to education, health and basic infrastructure (Spanish language website) than people in other rural areas.

In Sumapaz, peasant organisations have  been defending their rights for decades, their leaders have been – and still are – threatened and persecuted, and were frequently trapped in the crossfire between guerrillas and the army. 

The silence of the campesinos sitting with us in that meeting room was eloquent: as I later discovered, both of them had been imprisoned in their youth, only to be released years later due to lack of evidence.

In the Territorial Diagnosis document supporting their CRZ request, campesinos dedicated a whole section to human rights. Along with numerous other arbitrary detentions, some lasting for up to seven years, the document lists nine local leaders killed because of their activism; some deaths are blamed on the army, while others have still not been cleared up.

Other conversations

Although not all páramo histories are as dramatic as this, most share this lack of trust between local people and government institutions. At a workshop (Spanish language website) we organised at the Humboldt Institute to discuss the implications of the new páramos law, peasants from other páramos initially did not want to participate, as they heard government officials were also going to attend.

When they finally agreed to take part, in initial conversations it was common to hear sentences such as “we only see government officials in páramos when they come to impose fines”, or “restrictions are only for poor campesinos: industrial cultivations are untouchable”. 

However, the event eventually turned into an open dialogue, where the participants listened to each other, and jointly made proposals for implementing the law. In the closing plenary session, one campesino leader got up and, with a wry smile, said: “This workshop was important: we realised public officers are also human beings”.

His statement shows the profound challenges that socially inclusive conservation policies face. Despite the important shift implied by the 2018 law, it is key to keep in mind that laws and policies are produced and enacted by people; by women and men who are immersed in contexts that have been woven by history and threaded with power inequalities. Dealing with such issues, however context-dependent and complex, is decisive for making legal frameworks into real agents for more just and diverse landscapes. 

How to do this is a question with no easy answers. Some of the sources of distrust are structural – such as unequal land distribution and related long-standing violence – and mostly lie beyond the reach of environmental practitioners and institutions. Others, though, might be tackled by agreeing on some guiding principles for the implementation of environmental laws and policies. 

Some principles identified in our workshop (Spanish lanaguage site) include recognising local organisations as legitimate interlocutors for governance, acknowledging peasant knowledge as fundamental for understanding the territories, and enhancing the capacity of government institutions to reflect on their history and engage in creative social dialogue.

Adopting these principles might constitute a more fertile ground for jointly caring for the territories than the cold conference room where this story began.

Ministers, NGOs, academia and grassroots discuss resilience beyond COVID-19

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 10:26
COP26 President-designate Alok Sharma last week said the world does "not have the luxury of time" to take urgent action to address the climate crisis.

Watch a full recording of the 'Resilience in light of COVID-19' webinar or see it on IIED's YouTube channel, where time stamps to every individual speaker are also available  

Sharma, the UK Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, made the comments during a keynote speech in a discussion titled ‘Resilience in light of COVID-19: climate action on the road to COP26’, hosted by IIED and E3G during London Climate Action Week.

The discussion on 3 July, 2020 also featured an address by Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Minister of Environment, Republic of Rwanda, and served as a framing event for resilience at London Climate Action Week. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vital importance of resilience, and this event aimed to highlight how this was relevant across numerous sectors.

In his opening remarks, Jagan Chapagain, Secretary General of International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), suggested that the climate crisis will not wait for the pandemic. 

This was echoed by the event participants, who gave examples of the ambitious commitments and action on climate adaptation and resilience that they're working on at all levels, from grassroots to health to public policy and more.

In the keynote speech, Sharma noted that those who had contributed the least to climate change also have the fewest resources to adapt to it. He discussed the unprecedented heatwaves in Siberia, flash flooding in East Africa that has displaced hundreds of thousands of people and 150,000 acres destroyed in Arizona wildfires, emphasising that tackling climate change is an existential risk, and adaptation and resilience is a core area of action. 

He said that we must help people, economies and the environment to adapt and prepare for the impacts of climate change. He said: "Time is a luxury we don’t have, so early interventions can create an inflection point in climate action, as better early warning systems can give communities more time to prepare for extreme conditions."

Sharma also urged financial institutions to join the Coalition for Climate Resilience Investment in order to join forces and address the climate crisis in our economic response. He said: "Finance and economies play a crucial role in climate action. We need to improve our efforts to mobilise private sector finance, in addition to public finance, and ensure that climate risk is included in investment decision-making processes."

“We collectively do not have the luxury of time. We need to act now.” @AlokSharma_RDG's powerful statement at #LCAW2020.#ResilienceforCOP26

— London Climate Action Week (@london_climate) July 3, 2020

Mujawamariya said that resilience must lie at the heart of our response to the climate crisis, and act as our ‘North Star’ – guiding our climate action. She said that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that none of us are resilient until all of us are resilient.

#ResilienceforCOP26 ...we have no plan"B" home, but we can have & give a plan "B" hope to the next generations, we owe a better "home" to our children!

— Mujawamariya Jeanne d'Arc (@MujaJeanne) July 3, 2020

The first panel discussion was moderated by Nick Mabey of E3G and asked, in light of COVID-19, what a broad and prioritised resilience agenda would look like, united across the interrelated agendas of climate, health, development, food, peace and security? The answers were diverse but boiled down to a simple message: we have to act early, act fast, and work together.

Professor Sir Andy Haines, former director of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, emphasised the need to strengthen universal healthcare, which is a basic building block for resilience and effective early warning. 

The chair of the UK's Environment Agency, Emma Howard-Boyd, echoed these sentiments by suggesting that we need a race for resilience as we plan forward out of COVID-19. 

Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), said that Bangladesh was an example of climate mainstreaming, with 7.5% of the national budget dedicated to climate action. But, he added, nations could not do adaptation ‘top down’. 

At #ResilienceforCOP26, @SaleemulHuq Special Advisor to Climate Vulnerable Forum, and Director @ICCCAD, outlines how countries can learn about resilience and adaptation from Bangladesh.

— E3G - Third Generation Environmentalism (@e3g) July 3, 2020

Sheela Patel, director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC) and a commissioner for the Global Commission on Adaptation, stressed the need for municipalities to work and collaborate with vulnerable groups. She said: "We want to work with social movements to give voice and agency to communities – those of us who have previously been 'consumers' of development." 

Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), summed up the first panel discussion, saying that the evidence is getting stronger that climate change is bringing with it a severe security risk. He said that continuing with business as usual "generates an unmanageable security agenda", and that cooperation at national and international levels is a core element of resilience.

At #ResilienceforCOP26, @dansmith2020 of @SIPRIorg continues

Toxic geopolitics is a risk to building resilience. Leadership is about building cooperation, building institutions, norms and treaties internationally. Cooperation is the new realism #LCAW2020

— E3G - Third Generation Environmentalism (@e3g) July 3, 2020

The second panel discussion was moderated by IIED director Andrew Norton, and discussed what ambitious leadership on adaptation and resilience looks like in terms of necessary action this decade, and what can be done to lay the groundwork in the run-up to COP26. It also asked what the lessons were that can be learned from the diverse conversations on adaptation and resilience being held at this year’s London Climate Action Week.

Dr. Amal-Lee Amin, director of climate change at CDC Group, discussed CDC's three pillars in its investments: net zero by 2050; supporting a socially just transition; and adaptation and resilience.

Prema Gopalan, founder and executive director of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a grassroots women's organisation, told the panel that is essential to get women at the centre of the COVID-19 response and recovery. She said: “They need to be supported to have a place at the recovery table, or we might build back worse.”

Now at #ResilienceforCOP26, @Premagopalan, founder and executive director @sspindia explains how grassroots organisations and communities have worked to turn every disaster into an opportunity, building more resilient communities.

— E3G - Third Generation Environmentalism (@e3g) July 3, 2020

Carlos Sanchez, director of climate resilience investment at Willis Towers Watson, suggested that COVID-19 and climate change have given an opportunity to align private and public actors – only then can we build solutions to manage that risk, laying the groundwork for real commitments.

Tenzin Wangmo, the lead negotiator for the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group at the UN climate negotiations, explained that COVID-19 has put a further strain on countries who are already facing unprecedented challenges of developing sustainably in the face of climate change. 

She stressed that the LDCs want to achieve climate-resilient pathways by 2030, and go net zero by 2050, but they need scaled up climate finance in order to adapt and build resilience.

The final panellist in the packed discussion was Professor Mizan Khan, programme director of the LDC University Consortium on Climate Change, who stressed that capacity building is key in research for skills and knowledge. He suggested that capacity building is a process, and that universities play a huge role. Both he and Huq underlined that learning from a South-South perspective is important, but that finance is essential.

IIED's Norton summed up the discussion, saying: “We need to recognise how precarious the lives and livelihoods are for people in vulnerable communities, but that they have been both surviving and protecting themselves from the virus. 

“The range of work that grassroots organisations have been doing has been essential, and we can learn from them – but there is no time to waste.”

Carbon offsetting: who’s really winning?

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 09:01

To tackle climate change and poverty, we need to look past win-win solutions and start asking tough questions.

'Win-win solution’ is one of the hottest catchphrases in environmental policy. Liberal politicians tout legislation that will grow the economy while cutting emissions, businesses promise shareholders they will continue to profit while slashing carbon footprints, and international aid institutions stress the sustainable development imperative to lift billions out of poverty while stopping catastrophic climate change.

Now, spurred by COVID-19 and the impetus to ‘build back better’, there’s renewed emphasis on policies that will reboot the economy while delivering a greener future.

Perhaps the most far-reaching example of a ‘win-win’ (in this case ‘triple-win’) solution is carbon offsetting. Through investing in projects that reduce emissions, most often in the global South, individuals and companies can theoretically counterbalance their contributions to climate change. Offsets will not only benefit the environment, but also – as promised by the UNFCCC (PDF) – reduce poverty in developing countries.

The United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), established under the Kyoto Protocol, was the first major offsetting scheme. Signatories unable to meet their binding emissions targets could compensate through emissions-reduction investments in developing countries.

To date, there have been more than 8,100 CDM projects in 111 countries, focusing on renewable energy, energy efficiency, and reforestation. The "co-benefits" of these projects, as the UNFCCC website catalogue displays, span from “poverty reduction” and “job generation” to “community empowerment”.

Offsets – off target

Carbon offsets have been presented as common sense because they epitomise the flexibility economists tell us is essential for meeting climate targets at the lowest cost. But critics argue that the CDM has neither substantially reduced emissions or alleviated poverty.

We are nowhere near meeting global emissions targets, and the illusion that we can continue to consume as usual may be hindering more radical efforts to decarbonise. Further studies show that the CDM has made little progress addressing poverty – and sometimes negatively affects host communities. 

Take India: the government puts rural poverty alleviation at the heart of its development agenda, yet most CDM projects focus on industrial emissions in the least rural regions. Or Chiapas, Mexico, where a CDM reforestation project has dispossessed indigenous communities of ancestral lands. Consider Buenos Aires, Argentina: a methane-flaring landfill (PDF) project has sickened thousands of slum-residents by incentivising waste incineration far above the landfill’s capacity.

Extensive technical fixes have been rolled out in response to the CDM’s failures. Certification schemes, like the Gold Standard, promise consumers that their carbon offsets will have real development benefits. Increasingly complex frameworks verify CDM projects’ emission reductions. These reforms have arguably increased transparency for carbon offset consumers and reduced corruption by CDM project operators.

Getting real

But we’re missing the point.

We’re not going to keep global warming to 1.5°C by planting trees in Chiapas or flaring methane in Buenos Aires. We’re not going to bring billions out of poverty by hiring people to reforest or transport waste.

When we propose a technocratic win-win solution to climate change and poverty, we in the global North absolve ourselves of collective responsibility for creating these problems.

We tell ourselves that by paying a small fraction of our salaries for emissions reductions in developing countries, we can continue to consume as usual, while ostensibly undoing our contribution to climate change. By throwing around the phrase 'win-win', there are questions we don’t answer: who wins? Who defines win-win? Why do some people win while others lose?

This isn’t to say that initiatives can’t reduce environmental impact and improve the lives of those living in poverty. I worked for a Mexican organisation that fused indigenous knowledge with modern engineering to develop community-led sustainable development projects such as strategically planting trees that sequester CO2 and reduce landside risk.

This was a win-win solution, but it did not purport to be universally applicable to different contexts like the CDM.

A community reforestation project that fuses indigenous knowledge with modern engineering to create sustainable development projects in La Montaña de Guerrero, Mexico (Photo: copyright Cooperación Comunitaria)

The way we tell this story matters. When we perpetuate the myths that we can keep on consuming and that development interventions from the global North will end poverty, we give politicians, businesses and individuals a way out of admitting tough political realities and making difficult sacrifices.

The carbon offsetting market continues to grow. Before we try to buy our way out of the global crises of climate change and inequality, we need to start asking ourselves some tough questions.

If we really want everyone to win, we need to start admitting who is winning now. And if we truly support win-win solutions for those living in poverty, we need to listen to what win-win means to them.

CBA14: Same great conference, entirely new environment

Tue, 07/07/2020 - 06:25

The 2020 international conference on community-based adaptation will be digital – but it will still have community at the centre.

The community-based adaptation (CBA) conference series has established itself as the leading global, practitioner-focused climate adaptation conference. Now in its 14th year, the event prides itself on a commitment to creating space for grassroots and local perspectives to be heard through interactive workshop sessions shaped and facilitated by the participants themselves. 

This year, we will be holding the conference online so that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, grassroots perspectives are not lost at a pivotal moment for climate justice and global development.

To make the conference as accessible and inclusive as possible, CBA14 will feature a range of ways to interact, network, hold dialogues, and build skills and knowledge. It will be accessible through mobile phones and computers, using several different online platforms and tools.

Committed to sharing knowledge and new skills

As long-time funders and contributors, we know how CBA conference participants value the opportunity to discuss new tools and learn approaches that can be modified and applied in their own context.

The opportunity to contribute and shape the sessions builds the confidence of practitioners who don’t often have the chance to join international events – this is very much their space. Participants tell us how much they value being able to interact with their peers and build their networks. 

The discussions surrounding [finance, technology, and policy engagement] were constructive and informative. The conference provided a great opportunity for networking with like-minded practitioners and organisations.

Dragons Den allows participants to develop an important skill that will not only improve local livelihoods but enhance ecosystem adaptation whilst making money. Genius idea! 

Talking with peers can also flag skills gaps: for example participants reported that CBA discussions helped them recognise that they needed to do more to incorporate gender difference into their programmes, and improve their skills for proposal development. 

Taking the conference online allows us to reinforce our commitment to capacity building and community networking. The ‘Dragon’s Den’ theme will offer a step-by-step course in proposal development, while 'skill share' sessions delivered by attendees will offer peer-to-peer learning in specific, practical skills. As all the sessions are online, we can record them to provide participants with a rich downloadable resource that can be viewed later. 

Bringing people together online also creates new opportunities for networking and community building. The conference platform will make it easy for participants to identify people with similar backgrounds, skills and interests, or working in similar locations. Attendees will be able to create informal discussion groups around a topic, idea or region with just a few clicks – and could open the door to transformative new connections. 

The value of local solutions

The COVID-19 pandemic makes the discussions at CBA even more important. We have seen the success of community-level responses to the pandemic. Across the world, social movements and 'mutual aid' groups have shown the value of local knowledge and commitment in supporting their communities through crisis, and this same knowledge is essential in responding to climate risks.

Yet practitioners and grassroots community representatives from the global South are still not given enough opportunities to share their perspective at high levels.

The CBA conference creates a space for the lived experiences and opinions of people facing climate change impacts daily to be clearly articulated and expressed. 

For example, the adaptation technology theme at CBA13 was particularly revealing for us both as funders and practitioners. Our discussions revealed that some new digital tools intended to support adaptation are reinforcing top-down flows of information on climate hazards and solutions.

Such approaches leave local people few opportunities to report their real-time experiences or proposed solutions to policymakers. The message to those working with digital communication tools – particularly in the private sector – was clear: work with communities to identify how their knowledge can be more effectively communicated through technology to shape appropriate responses.

Our aim is to ensure that our first digital CBA conference leads by example: our programme will offer maximum opportunity for inclusive dialogues and creative conversations.

From local to global

The messages from the CBA community matter, because they have the power to influence the policy environment, and indeed the direction of funding around how adaptation takes place – on technology, but also on nature-based solutions or the future of climate finance.

The rich exchanges at CBA have in the past shaped the programmes of host partners and attendees such as ourselves, and also have the potential to influence initiatives such as the Global Commission on Adaptation and the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience. 

As we prepare for the UN Secretary-General's Summit on Biodiversity, the Climate Adaptation Summit and start on the long road to COP26, ensuring that local perspectives are out in public early and forcefully will help set the right focus and tone for these coming events.

Our ask for those joining is this… bring as much as you can to CBA online – put the week in your calendar, and see it as a week reserved to share your expertise, strengthen your skills and make connections. This won’t be a simple webinar, it will be a thriving, active and changing online space, depending on and growing with your interaction.

Tackling gender inequality to promote inclusion and justice in society

Mon, 06/07/2020 - 07:58

Tackling increasing inequalities in society is a complex and sensitive process but is a key part of IIED's institutional strategy. Reducing gender inequality is just one aspect. Rosalind Goodrich reports on recent progress to integrate this into our work.

In January 2018, I co-wrote a blog summarising how far we'd come since IIED launched its gender manifesto in 2016. At the very end of the piece, we signalled the potential for more progress with the upcoming work on our institutional strategy for 2019-2024

Launched in June 2019, "Make Change Happen" sets out five strategic challenges, including tackling increasing inequality. Inequality not only arising from gender difference but from age, race, religion, disability, sexuality and wealth. 

This challenge underpins all areas of our work.

In the gender equality, voice and power work programme flowing from the strategy, one of the three longer-term outcomes we are aiming for is:

National and sub-national government and traditional leadership structures recognise the rights of the most marginalised women and men, boys and girls … and their roles as change agents, and in doing so make sure they are part of relevant decision-making processes so that their voices are heard.

We know that realising those rights, particularly for women, depends on many things, including the nature of women's relationship with men and how the men close to them respond when they assert greater power.

Reflecting on this, in tandem with wanting to act on the ambition of the new strategy, led us to decide that it was time to move on from a gender manifesto to having an institutional gender equality policy.

From manifesto to policy commitment

The significant shift from the manifesto to the policy was to acknowledge gender intersectionality with other social, economic and cultural factors and to set out the implications of this for our research, our engagement with partners and how we operate as an institute.

The 2019 initiative took us from an expression of commitment in the manifesto to adding a policy to the framework for guiding decisions across IIED.

With this gender equality policy, we've signalled an aspiration to improve and learn. But to be able to evaluate progress, we had to be clear about our starting point.

Reviewing our ambition

This prompted another piece of work in 2019 – a gender equality ambition review – carried out by an external consultant over about three months to assess, in blunt terms, our baseline. 

The results were revealing but not surprising: levels of understanding about gender equality varied across the organisation – a specialism for some, others still beginners. Evidence of gender equality ambition in research projects ranged from apparently gender blind to transformative; researchers' confidence in knowing how to do gender analyses, design research and evaluate success was not consistent.

A plan of action

This review, combined with the policy, sent a clear message that a top priority for the coming year is to build staff capability and create informal opportunities for sharing knowledge and exchanging experiences. For starters, we are planning a series of brown bag lunches to promote learning internally on a variety of topics.

We've strengthened our gender induction session so that all new staff get a fuller picture of our vision and ambition and how this expectation should manifest itself in practice – in research design, in how we communicate research, work with partners and in how we create a fair and positive workplace for women and men regardless of their background, age, race, ethnicity or religion.

We're generating ideas for specific pieces of research whose findings will inform projects across the organisation. Projects that will challenge our thinking and remind us that gender means studying both women and men and their interactions in society – looking more deeply at what stops women being empowered, even if that means a project studying how men's attitudes and confidence are changing. 

Findings, for example, from an IIED and Embassy of Ireland project in Tanzania on the links between gender-based violence, climate change and effective delivery of health services, found that when men experience economic losses and cannot support their gender roles, they become violent towards women and children.

Where there is a reverse of women being violent against men due to resource-based conflicts, men find it difficult to report violence cases to police and some end up committing suicide.  

We're fortunate that in the past year, more staff with gender expertise have come on board to join the growing number of gender equality champions, bringing new energy. But actually, it wasn't luck: managers have recognised that we need this skill and experience in the institute and have made it a part of more researcher job descriptions and therefore a requirement for success in recruitment. 

All these actions we hope will build institutional confidence. It goes without saying, that tackling increasing inequalities is a complex and sensitive process, made even more so amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We are just one part of making change happen, but we want that part to be significant, open to learning and ready to challenge the status quo. 

How can farmers in Ethiopia work safe and smart during COVID-19 lockdown?

Fri, 03/07/2020 - 06:00

What does farming under lockdown look like – and what are the options for keeping farmers safe while work goes on? 

IIED’s Facebook page regularly invites our followers – particularly our younger audience – to blog about their opinions and experiences. In this month’s blog, we hear how farmers in Ethiopia are managing the fallout from COVID-19 and about the options for operating safely during the pandemic.

The Kobo Girana Valley Development Programme is an irrigation and drought development project in North-Central Ethiopia’s North Wollo Zone. It employs around 2,470 farmers who, together, harvest over 143,000 quintals (14,300 tonnes) of fruit and vegetables each year. In this drought prone area, highly susceptible to crop failure, the project has brought food security to more than 10,000 family members. 

I am a senior lecturer and researcher at Wollo University and teach rural development courses in the agriculture department. My students and I regularly visit the Kobo Girana project. During a field visit (pre-COVID-19) I got talking to a female farmer, Mulumebet Molla, who told me about her day – a combination of weeding, watering, digging and harvesting. Her children play their part with the weeding and watering. Mulumebet’s typical crops are onion, garlic, watermelon, mango, cabbage, papaya, maize, mung bean and teff – a protein-rich grain and a staple food in Ethiopia. She explained that she grows crops according to the project’s cultivation schedule which rotates crops to maximise production. 

Farming under lockdown

Now, under COVID-19 lockdown, what has been the fallout for farmers like Mulumebet? Land borders have been shut, physical distancing measures are in place, and wearing masks and other protective equipment is encouraged. But farmers are permitted to continue working – so the Kobo Girana project is still up and running. But there are many obstacles. 

Production is suffering because farmers cannot get the inputs they need – such as pesticides and fertiliser — quickly enough.  With borders shut, imported inputs are not arriving into Ethiopia. And where inputs are available, travel restrictions make it almost impossible for farmers to reach the markets where they are sold. This will likely lead to a heavy drop in production and sales particularly of tomato, papaya, and watermelon. 

The travel restrictions have also doubled transport costs. For farmers and merchants, getting products to market is twice as expensive. And this has further knock-on effects: because transport costs are higher, buyers are setting lower prices for produce to compensate for their higher transport cost. Since farmers do not have the option to store their goods — particularly perishable produce — they are forced to accept the low prices set by buyers. Buyers feel justified in setting these low prices because there are fewer customers to sell to – with the lockdown restrictions, people are not going to the market to buy goods. 

Labour is also a challenge. Many rural labour workers returned to their homes when the lockdown was announced. Farm labour all but disappeared and far fewer workers available has pushed up the costs of labour. 

Working safely during the pandemic: what are the options? 

Farmers are being encouraged to continue their work during the lockdown. But farm labour and selling produce involve working in groups, and gathering in marketplaces and most workers most do not have protective equipment such as gloves, masks and sanitiser. 

My students and I have been discussing: how can farmers continue working safely on their farms? What measures can be taken to maintain physical distance in the marketplaces? 

Our city of Dessie experimented with fragmenting large markets to prevent mass gatherings of people. The city has two large markets Segnogebya and Robit, open on Mondays and Wednesdays respectively. During the lockdown, the markets were split into more than 15 areas in the city. 

But the locations of the smaller markets are often on main roads and in squares. Bringing more cars and people to these spaces is causing traffic congestion and risks more accidents. Furthermore, fresh produce is not equally distributed among the different markets – with more being delivered to centrally located markets. As a result, the price for the same produce varies from one market to the next. In search of cheaper prices, people have been travelling further distances – increasing movement and potentially the spread of the virus. Market fragmentation also impacts food storage and shelf life. The smaller markets in the new locations have no shade or storage - surplus product is taken back to the retailer’s house. This has resulted in losses for farmers.

Mobile based marketing is another option – where producer, retailer and consumer associations connect using mobile phones. Farmers are organised into their producer associations (cooperatives) and share information about what they’ve produced, the quantity of produce, and when it will be ready for sale. This information is shared with wholesalers and retailers who indicate their interest. The product is delivered to the consumer through fragmented markets found in each town administration. By reducing the numbers of people working in the mass open markets, mobile based marketing offers an effective way of getting produce to market while minimising the risks of virus transmission. 

Planning our research

My students and I are planning to research these two options. With regards to market fragmentation, we will seek to identify the major market actors in the local fresh produce chain to see how fresh produce can be more evenly distributed. We will also look at post-harvest losses of perishable produce and examine ways to connect producers with other market actors to minimise these losses, reduce price variability – all the while considering how social distancing can be observed and the movement of people reduced. When looking at mobile markets we will collect data on how market actors perceive mobile based markets, what would influence their decision on where to sell or buy, when to sell or buy, how much to sell or buy, and who to sell to, or from who to buy from. In short – can mobile based marketing work for both sides? 

The Kobo Girana Valley Development Programme has documented its activities in this video.

How Dhaka's urban poor are dealing with COVID-19

Wed, 01/07/2020 - 10:07

COVID-19 presents not only a health crisis, but a food crisis for Dhaka’s poorest. Guest blogger John Taylor describes how urban poor communities have risen to the challenge. 

This series of blogs focusing on the transition to a predominantly urban world was planned before COVID-19. This pandemic brings such a devastating current and future health and economic impact that it demands our attention and commitment to work together to overcome it. This blog comes from John Taylor, an urban planner managing FAO's Dhaka Food System project in Bangladesh. During the lockdown John kept up to speed on how urban poor communities across Dhaka were coping with the impacts of the virus - on food prices and food security - through text messages from a close-knit network of around 150 community reporters.

The streets of Dhaka, usually bustling with life and congested with cars, have been remarkably quiet. On March 26, the government imposed a lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.  All shops and factories were closed, all forms of transportation restricted. Only essential services continued to operate.

These measures to slow the spread of the virus have dealt the heaviest of blows to the city's poor who depend on jobs in the garment factories, the daily wage labour market, and the informal economy to survive. Without work, and with little cash in hand or savings, urban poor families in Dhaka have struggled - not only to keep themselves virus free in crowded and badly-serviced settlements, but to get enough to eat.

In the city's crowded informal settlements, home to workers from all over the country, public services are not easily accessible. In these dense, makeshift settlements, maintaining social distancing is almost impossible. Communal water sources for hand washing are scarce. So too are health centres for learning how to keep safe from the virus. On top of all this, for nearly three months they have had to feed their families and manage household expenses without jobs or income.  

Dhaka's urban poor families have long been accustomed to adapting to temporary food and income shortages by eating less, but with significant consequences for health and nutrition, especially when eating less for a long time. During the lockdown, poor families have reduced their diet to as little as one meal a day, and replaced more expensive, protein-rich foods like chicken, fish, and beef with cheaper staples like lentils, potatoes and rice. To buy food, they have had to borrow, sell their belongings or draw from what savings they might have. Other survival strategies have included changing jobs to be mobile food vendors (permitted because they are considered essential services) or breaking lockdown rules, going out as rogue rickshaw drivers. 

The urban poor have displayed great kindness and support to their neighbours, friends and family during lockdown: sharing food, distributing food assistance packages, and lending money. With no real social safety net and an inadequate government response, these spontaneous and organised acts of mutual aid have been a lifeline for those hit hardest.   

Community-level responses

Organised community-level responses to the crisis have helped ensure the health and safety of the most vulnerable. Through their leadership and initiative, community-based organisations of informal settlement dwellers have served as mediators, helping to evenly distribute aid and food assistance, organize virus-prevention activities and provide basic hygiene and safety services. One such organisation is the Urban Poor Federation of Dhaka North City, linking 350 Community Development Committees (CDCs). The federation is organised around community savings groups and provides accessible finance to urban poor groups.&

Targeting food assistance

Detailed information about urban poor households most in need is not readily available.

When the government signalled they would distribute food to the poor, community leaders from CDCs created lists of the most vulnerable residents: widows, pregnant or lactating mothers, disabled people, or those who couldn't afford food. These lists helped ensure food assistance and donations went to those in desperate need and not the better off. As Sumi, a community leader from Narayanganj City, put it, “We work at the grassroots level so it is easier for us to identify the people who are in real need.”  

On April 16, the Prime Minister launched an initiative to register five million poor households across the country, who would be eligible to buy heavily subsidised food staples. Community leaders worked with the city government to formulate the lists.  

Community hygiene

Community leaders have also been promoting awareness about hygiene within the community. In Narayanganj, community leaders worked with city officials to distribute leaflets about hand washing and wearing face masks. They also set up hand washing stations. Every day in the informal settlements they collect household waste, clean trash from the roadsides and scrub pavements with bleach provided by the city government. The federation is constantly running campaigns with residents about the importance of keeping themselves and their localities clean.  

Urban agriculture grows

The lockdown has brought a surge in urban agriculture - both in practice and in recognising its value as a reliable and sustainable source of nutritious food during hard times. Over the past few months, hundreds of small household and community fruit and vegetable gardens have sprung up on little pieces of land and vacant lots. They have become a lifeline, providing families with nutritious food they can't afford to buy in the market. Urban agriculture can also create an alternative income source.

In the Korail Bosti, an informal settlement of over 100,000 residents in the city centre, twenty enterprising residents have cultivated small vegetable gardens on the banks of the surrounding lake. With jobs scarce, they have relied on their crops for subsistence, and begun to sell produce to neighbours at prices well below market rate. Community-based agriculture calls for management of abandoned or unused land, irrigation pumps and gardening tools – but the efforts pay off, enabling communities to cultivate urgently-needed food, thereby building their resilience and group power. 

A silver lining

Instead of withdrawing in fear of being infected, the urban poor community groups in Dhaka have shown bravery and commitment as promoters of true community development. Selina Begum, president of the Dhaka North Federation puts it like this: “We did not step back. We have continued our social services amid this COVID-19 emergency by protecting ourselves and working hard. We’ll be stronger now in the face of a health emergency.”  Drawing on their local knowledge they have led efforts to organise communities to protect themselves and to ensure that assistance goes to those who need it most; they have turned the challenge of the virus on its head, using it as an opportunity to build their capacity and find new ways of looking after the city's most vulnerable citizens.  

The next blog in this series will examine the global geography of 'world' cities