Climate Change Adaptation: Opportunities and Challenges from Two Communities in Ethiopia

Maereg Tafere, Jana Olivier, Maarten Jordaan


Climate change is real and is disproportionately affecting poor communities in poorer countries. Climate change drives climate extremes which manifest in the form of extreme droughts in some areas and excessive precipitations in others. The nature of impacts from climate extremes depends not only on the intensities of the extremes themselves but also on exposure and vulnerability of communities. Communities in poor countries are the most exposed to such extremities and are forced to bear a huge burden to adapt to these extremes. As such, adaptation to disasters is not new to these communities in a sense that they have been adapting to extremes even before climate change became a concern. What is now new is the extent of exposure factors exerting an ever-increasing pressure on livelihoods of already destitute communities. As if their poverty was not enough, climate change extends the plights beyond previous adaptation capacities. These communities and countries not only have to tackle clime-driven consequences, but also other forms of disaster impacts and poverty in general. How can these communities and countries deal with such intricately related environmental management, disaster risk reduction and overall poverty alleviation challenges all at the same time?

A survey was carried out in communities with varying socio-cultural and environmental conditions in two different parts of Ethiopia to understand their perceptions on climate change and variability, and their capacity to adapt. Institutional support levels provided to such disaster-prone communities in terms of policy, technical and material from local governments and international organizations has also been reviewed. The results of various group discussions suggest that community awareness on climate change impacts is fairly good, but commensurate action lags behind for various reasons. The groups also identified opportunities, challenges and concerns. Local institutional support is growing as manifested through, among other things, ratification and implementation of relevant international conventions, integrating climate change issues in development programming, creating coordinating faculties, apportioning significant resources in important sectors such as agriculture, and creating public knowledge, though with enough challenges and concerns.

Given their current levels of human, financial, natural and socio-political capital, poor communities in Ethiopia and perhaps other poor countries in Africa, are tackling their part of the problem with the needed intentionality and vigour. However, their resources and technical capacities are not enough to deal with the current levels of disasters, let alone with the projected increase of climate and weather impacts. On the other hand, the current level of global adaptation funding and technical support for developing countries is below even conservative estimates. Noting the gravity of the problem and the level of poverty prevalent in the most climate affected areas, and existing difficulties in adaptation, global institutions need to take the implementation of the already-agreed upon international conventions for the reduction of GHG and adaptation funding more seriously. The situation is already dire for the poor communities and countries and if GHG emissions continue unabated even more resources will be needed in the future to respond to climate change impacts.

Keywords: Adaptation, drought impacts, environmental degradation, Ethiopian highlands, famine, forests, perception


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