Climate change presents special challenges for disaster risk reduction. The best places to examine those problems are found in difficult environments where livelihoods are particularly vulnerable. We choose two dryland environments, the Indus River Basin of Pakistan and the transitional semi-arid grasslands of the African Sahel, as the focus of our exploration of how complex and difficult realizing the goals of the SFDRR may be.
The Indus Basin’s millions of inhabitants are vulnerable to the formidable combination of societal vulnerabilities and climate change. It is expected that climate change will significantly affect the behavior and severity of naturally occurring hazards, such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and cyclones, sometimes increasing their frequency and intensity and sometimes decreasing them (IPCC 2012, 2014). In addition to the added uncertainty in the occurrence of natural meteorological hazards, the Indus Basin has a major concern in the expected melting of Himalayan glaciers. The increase in glacial melt will severely disturb the hydrometeorological cycle of the Indus River system, an essential source of food and water for millions of people (Immerzeel et al. 2010; Zia 2013). Superimposed on the natural hazards is the plethora of increasing societal vulnerabilities: rising populations of mostly homeless poor people, rural to urban migration (Mustafa and Sawas 2013), the growth of urban and suburban slums (Marx et al. 2013), financial volatility, economic insecurity, energy shortages (Komal and Faisal 2015), lack of human rights and law enforcement, political instability within country borders as well as across international borders, and ongoing ethnic, civic, linguistic, and religious proxy wars (Zia and Hameed 2014).
In this context of societal vulnerability, it is not surprising that breakdowns of disaster management strike almost every year in one of the Indus Basin countries, in particular Pakistan and Afghanistan. Figure 1 shows the international boundaries of the Indus Basin. The 2010 floods in upper and later on in lower Indus affected more than 18 million people, caused 1985 deaths, and damaged or destroyed 1.7 million houses; and hypothetically increased the influence of extremist organizations in the flood affected areas, though the State and civil society were able to retain political control in the short run (Hasan and Zaidi 2012). It is important to note that extremism in Pakistan, which was initially clustered around tribal areas in the upper Indus Basin, has recently increased in southern, lower Indus, areas (Javid 2011). Hasan and Zaidi (2012, p. 336) astutely note the impact of the 2010 floods on extremism in the short and long run: “Much of the damage caused by the recent flood has damaged the regions under manipulation and influence of the religious fundamentalists, and Pakistan’s government has been sustaining pressures of the Western world to continue onslaught on this region, as these areas have been said to provide safe heaven for Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Although with the support of the people, civil society and army, it could be argued that the situation has not adequately allowed insurgents to take a major political lead however it could still lead to future political unrest. The flooding effect could still trigger massive resentment against present regime; political resiliency also has to lock horns with multiple challenges in the shape of ongoing insurgencies, ever disturbing urban sectarian dissension, frightening suicide bombings in opposition to central institutions, economic weakening and regional political issues.” Drought, another hydrometeorological hazard, also regularly afflicts the region. Unless systematic approaches to vulnerability reduction, early warning communication systems, and institutional mechanisms to cope with disasters through changes in land-use planning and economic development are pursued in advance, the adverse outcomes from natural hazards will increase in their severity and frequency according to human-induced climate change scenarios developed by IPCC (2014).
Climate change is expected to shift the spatial and temporal distributions of precipitation from the summer monsoon over the Indus River Basin. Increased greenhouse gas concentrations are expected to increase both the land–water temperature contrast and absolute temperature of the oceans, strengthening the monsoon (Turner and Annamalai 2012). Yet this expected trend has not been observed. Turner and Annamalai (2012) found that since 1950 the amount of rainfall produced by the South Asian summer monsoon has been decreasing and shifting eastward. An important caveat is that aerosols have been increasing over the region, and could be responsible for mitigating expected increasing trends (Ramanathan et al. 2005). While average observed seasonal precipitation resulting from the South Asian summer monsoon has decreased over the past six decades, an analysis by Singh et al. (2014) found historical shifts in extreme wet and dry spells. Specifically, peak-season precipitation has decreased while daily precipitation variability has increased, and the frequency of dry spells has increased while the intensity of dry spells has decreased (Singh et al. 2014). Projections of the South Asian summer monsoon by global climate models (GCMs) are mixed and dominated in the near-term by decadal variability. Ueda et al. (2006) found increasing seasonal precipitation despite a weakening of the monsoonal circulation, and Turner and Annamalai (2012) found a range of responses from unchanged to increased seasonal precipitation.
Uncertainties about monsoon variability and glacial melt timing pose enormous planning and policy challenges for the Indus Basin. The Indus Basin is a breadbasket for millions of people across the subcontinent, yet glacial melt and monsoon variability threatens the future of food production in its catchment regions. Effective water and food management policies require proactive land-use planning that is shaped by high resolution climate and hydrometeorological forecasts at all possible lead times, ranging from daily and weekly to annual and decadal. Integration of these forecasts into agency and individual decision-making processes is another critical need for effectively building adaptive capacity and resiliency in the basin. Both the generation and integration of climatological and hydrometeorological forecasts with decision making and planning processes require significant changes in current governance practices and resource allocations that affect the evolution of land-use development pathways.
In earlier work in the Indus Basin, Zia and Glantz (2012), based upon multiple stakeholder workshops with local policy-making and planning agencies, scientists, and civil society organizations, identified a range of policy and governance challenges for designing resilient risk management and land-use planning approaches. Policies such as the introduction of flood insurance programs or governance of multihazard “risk zones” do not lend themselves to “linear” policy solutions as the SFDRR appears to assume. Mere injection of donor grants and soft loans in building technologically advanced EWS do not necessarily result in the introduction of climate resilient policy and planning processes. Rather, the climatological and hydrometeorological information is added to a mix of power struggles in rapidly globalizing societies such as Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan. Land grabs and related power struggles, on top of weak executive and judicial institutions, can leave such EWS forecasts as mere pieces of paper, waiting meaningful incorporation into agency or individual decision making. The “means of implementation” gap identified as a result of the HFA experiment will have similar political and governance challenges when the time comes to implement SFDRR. The potential of climatological and hydrometeorological EWS as a strategy for positioning DRR in development and planning processes has not yet been realized in the Indus Basin. But a fresh and novel way to conceptualize the SFDRR “means of implementation” could provide a transformational shift in business as usual top-down governance and resource allocation scenarios. Explicit focus on multilevel risk governance regimes with transparent and accountable participation and empowerment of local scale communities, in particular vulnerable communities, will need to be prioritized in SFDRR-driven investments, programs, and projects.
Much like in the Indus Basin, in the Sahel region of Africa (Fig. 2) climate change is likely to work in tandem with societal vulnerabilities to produce both direct and indirect negative effects on the food securityFootnote 1 (IPCC 2012). In the relatively drier areas of the Sahel, food crop production is marginal or not viable due to a modest size, annually variable soil moisture store with which to sustain plant growth, high rainfall variability (skewed to dryness), and frequent occurrence of severe prolonged multiyear droughts (Glantz 1992; Rosenzweig et al. 2001; Challinor et al. 2007). Under a changing climate, severe regional droughts have become more frequent. Funk et al. (2008) concluded that the tendency for main growing season rainfall to decline has already contributed to food insecurity in eastern and southern Africa. Additionally, the expanded ranges of crop pests and altered transmission dynamics of insect pests and plant diseases predicted by climate change will likely exacerbate food availability problems in the Sahel countries (Rosenzweig et al. 2001). Not only can climate change be a significant factor that could undermine food security in Africa, but also ecosystem degradation, population growth, poor governance systems, low adaptive capacity, and economic decline has and will also likely contribute to continuing food insecurity in the Sahel region (Challinor et al. 2007; Funk et al. 2008; Bohle et al. 1994; Brown et al. 2007). The high sensitivity of food crop systems in Africa to climate is also exacerbated by constraints such as a heavy disease burden, conflicts and political instability, debt burden, and an unfair international trade system (Challinor et al. 2007). Therefore integration of climatological and hydrometeorological EWS in land-use and food planning processes could potentially yield considerable benefits in the Sahel region of Africa.
Relatively modest adverse changes in economies imply critical shifts in food security for those social groups that are currently vulnerable (Bohle et al. 1994). For example, the association between El Niño events and famines that killed tens of millions across the tropics in the late nineteenth century has been well documented. Davis (2002) argues that in the case of El Niño famine was triggered by drought, but was caused by the way political and economic colonization deprived people of their entitlements to natural resources. In contrast, droughts and famine can also bring many communities together in times of hardship and reduce conflict. The pathways in the exchange and political economies that ameliorate or mitigate the effects of climate change will probably have the more dominant effect on vulnerable individuals, groups, and classes in the Sahel region as well (Bohle et al. 1994). In addition, according to Challinor et al. (2007), whether the increasing demand for food due to population rise will be met primarily by extensification or intensification depends on land suitability and on the yield attainable from that land, as well as on the growth of national economies and of income-driven effective demand for food in the Sahel. Yields in Africa remain amongst the lowest in the world: in sub-Saharan regions, for example, mean rainfed cereal yields are 0.8 tons/ha, which is 0.4 tons/ha below the lowest figure for any other region. During the past 50 years, some 60 % of the growth in cereal output in Africa has been from area expansion and 40 % from yield increase (Challinor et al. 2007). Given the threefold expected increase in population by the end of this century, African Sahel countries cannot afford to be complacent about addressing the growing challenge of food security and sustainability as land use expansion and intensification accelerate against the background of increasing vulnerability to climate change.
In this context, the institutionalization of medium to long-term drought early warning forecast systems and their mainstreaming with land-use planning processes can provide a very useful science-policy interface in the Sahel countries. In particular, comparison of intensive agriculture versus agroecological land-use development pathways to produce a sustainable and equitable system would avoid worst-case food insecurity challenges brought about by climate change. Currently, there are a number of international, regional, and national EWS operating in the Sahel region. But in general these systems lack multilevel integration and national support and networks for local-level dissemination of information (Bailey 2013). At the international level, the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Global Information and Early Warning System on Food and Agriculture (GIEWS), the World Food Program’s Humanitarian Early Warning Service (HEWS), and the USAID Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS Net) collectively monitor the whole of the Sahel region and produce monthly reports, bulletins, and drought status updates (Pulwarty and Sivakumar 2014). International level monitoring systems target national level decision-makers and international support with the expectation that once the warning is issued aid will cascade down to the local community level. But in an analysis of the FEWS Net coverage of the 2007 floods in the Sahel region, Samimi et al. (2012) question the reliability of the information produced for emergency conditions at the regional and local scale because of the reliance on quick, standardized estimates.
At the regional level, the Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) collects regional level monitoring data from the Agrometeorology, Hydrology, Meteorology (AGRHYMET) center in Niger, and creates a forum to connect national level decision-makers (Traore et al. 2014). The CILSS EWS was established in the 1970s and has made great advances in regional monitoring and capacity building, but the AGRHYMET monitoring system still faces issues of data acquisition from countries, limited observation points, and less than rapid transfer of data to monitoring organizations (Traore et al. 2014). Finally, individual states in the Sahel region have varying operational levels of monitoring and EWS. Niger and Ethiopia both have relatively long standing EWS, housed in government agencies that regularly collect local level monitoring data to pass up the administrative hierarchy to national level decision-makers, whereas Mauritania, Gambia, and Chad have either no national EWS or very limited EWS capacity (Bailey 2013). National and regional level EWS rely on local observations and monitoring stations, but there is a lack of structured and integrated systems of communication that disseminate information out to local communities beyond the trickle down of policy and international aid.
One recent attempt to fill this integration gap is a partnership between the Rainwatch initiative by the University of Oklahoma and the African Climate Exchange (AfClix), a UK-based boundary organization. Boundary organizations, such as AfClix, sit at the science-policy interface and by design, involve and are accountable to actors from both side of the interface (Guston 2001). The Rainwatch initiative is producing near real-time monitoring from a series of stations in Niger, which is made available to government officials, but the partnership with AfClix has opened up channels for two-way dialogue on the ground through partnerships with humanitarian and development decision-makers in the region (Boyd et al. 2013). The Rainwatch/AfClix partnership offers a glimpse into what a more collaborative science-policy interface could look like, integrating bottom-up, people-centered initiatives with top-down decision-making.