Pro Poor_2-min

Responding to vulnerability and its root causes

By Bryce Appleby, human geographer, MSc Candidate at Universität Bonn / UNU-EHS – United Nations University of Environmental Risk and Human Security and communications volunteer at Resilient Cities 2017

Marginalized neighborhoods and slums are often disproportionately affected by climate change, given that they are often located in high-hazard areas, deprived of risk-reducing infrastructure and lacking adaptive capacity. On the final day of Resilient Cities 2017, city representatives from Jamaica, Cameroon and the Solomon Islands shared how they are building resilience in marginalized communities, using a community-based adaptation response.

Despite this, the residents of slums and marginalized communities have shown remarkable resilience – and have a base of knowledge that is worth harnessing.

The situation: Slums as key spots for building climate resilience

Honiara in the Solomon Islands is experiencing an urban growth rate of 4.7 percent – one of the highest in the Pacific – and informal settlements comprise about 40 percent of the total population. Severe floods in 2014 destroyed one vulnerable settlement, prompting a multi-stakeholder and community-driven project in late 2016 that focused on river and creek banks.

Montego Bay, Jamaica is one of the fast-growing cities in the Caribbean. One slum area in the heart of the city sits on steep slopes, which accumulate garbage and are vulnerable to flood events. Narrow entry paths make access in and out of the community difficult by emergency services in the event of disaster.

Similarly, in Bamenda, Cameroon, half of the city sits in a high flood risk zone and is deemed uninhabitable. However, people still build makeshift structures within the area.

Moving forward: A balance between education and governance

Forced relocations and complex local land tenure systems remain a controversial issue that require a nuanced approach. Trevion Manning, Director of Planning from Saint James Municipal Corporation explained, “It is the balance between enforcement and education which is important. You have to ensure that the information on risk areas and settlement restrictions are distributed within the communities. It is the collaboration amongst agencies or entities that will achieve climate change resilience.”

Montego Bay has found that public communications, education and capacity building are critical to implementation. By sharing information and engaging two-way dialogue, the city ensured voices from the community were heard and that local community leaders could become part of the process. In Honiara, GIS technology was used to map squatter and slum settlements, and city officials were trained in using this technology and data collection on tablets. In Bamenda, the local community voted on which projects to prioritize, opting for potable water sources.

Digging deeper: Social causes of vulnerability

Responding to visible issues is only half the story when it comes to building resilience in vulnerable communities. David Dodman, Director of Human Settlements at IIED underscored that although many climate projects focus on the immediate impacts of extreme events, there are also root causes that make people susceptible to harm – such as conflict, gender inequality and inequitable access to resources. Successful community-based adaptation and resilience strategies for the poor need to place the human dimension at the centre of any project.

This post is based on the “Pro-poor planning of climate resilience in marginalised neighborhoods” session  at Resilient Cities 2017.

The contents of this article reflect the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability.