Complex socio-ecological dynamics driven by extreme events in the Amazon
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- Pinho, P.F., Marengo, J.A. & Smith, M.S. Reg Environ Change (2015) 15: 643. doi:10.1007/s10113-014-0659-z
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Several years with extreme floods or droughts in the past decade have caused human suffering in remote communities of the Brazilian Amazon. Despite documented local knowledge and practices for coping with the high seasonal variability characteristic of the region’s hydrology (e.g., 10 m change in river levels between dry and flood seasons), and despite ‘civil defense’ interventions by various levels of government, the more extreme years seem to have exceeded the coping capacity of the community. In this paper, we explore whether there is a real increase in variability, whether the community perceives that recent extreme events are outside the experience which shapes their responses to ‘normal’ levels of variability, and what science-based policy could contribute to greater local resilience. Hydrological analyses suggest that variability is indeed increasing, in line with expectations from future climate change. However, current measures of hydrological regimes do not predict years with social hardship very well. Interviewees in two regions are able to express their strategies for dealing with ‘normal’ variability very well, but also identify ways in which abnormal years exceed their ability to cope. Current civil defense arrangements struggle to deliver emergency assistance in a sufficiently timely and locally appropriate fashion. Combining these insights in the context of social–ecological change, we suggest how better integration of science, policy and local knowledge could improve resilience to future trends, and identify some contributions science could make into such an arrangement.