Climate vulnerability and community-based approach

By Akangjungla

The correlation to their land, water and forest is considered an important source of resilience for indigenous communities and it is this aspect of correlation that evolves into adaptation approach, particularly for those communities grappling with keeping their home, land and generation safe from the threats of climate destructions. Assam, the second largest state in the Northeast India is the home of many such indigenous communities, battling and surviving with the consequences of extreme climate events.

With its large network of rivers, flood and erosion are frequently causing destruction in the state. Among others, the two major rivers, Brahmaputra and Barak with more than 50 tributaries feeding them, increases the risk of flood devastation in the monsoon every year.

According to an assessment by Rashtriya Barh Aayog (RBA), ‘the flood prone area of the country as a whole stands at about 10.2 % of the total area of the country, but flood prone area of Assam is 39.58 % of the area of the state.’ Thus, Assam alone accounts about 9.40% of total flood prone area of the country. This requires the undivided attention of policy makers at all levels.

The records can be often just the surface or tip of the actual circumstances and experiences of the populace directly affected by such occurrence of disasters. With the purpose of telling stories of the people, recently a team of women journalist from NE states (Nagaland, Manipur and Assam) and other parts of the country have been pro-actively engaged in highlighting the impact of climate change on people, particularly indigenous communities, living in the char areas of Assam. Through their writings, this group of journalists are projecting a public narrative on the importance of working with the communities and stakeholders to tackle environmental degradation and climate alterations. 

Their area of coverage has been few villages in Dhemaji district. Amongst the top 20 most vulnerable districts of India, Dhemaji in Assam tops the list. In year 2022 alone over 100,000 people living in district were affected by the floods. Most villages in Dhemaji are located along the river and involuntarily, the climate vulnerability in Dhemaji has revolved around flood. The district experiences a much unparalleled pattern of flooding. The flood is not uniform making it difficult for the communities to adapt. Nonetheless, the aspect of traditional knowledge and resilience has been the heart of all the stories. 

For the local communities, in the risk of losing their source of livelihood and generations, resilience is rooted in their in-depth knowledge of the landscape, and operating their indigenous knowledge to scale up safety measures and adapting unique models.

These community-based climate strategies involve integrating indigenous practice and traditional knowledge to flood mitigation and management. The communities have adopted the safe zones advocacy which includes high raised house constructions, taking shelter in raised platforms, safe migration practices, new system of agriculture etc. As a community, these people have adopted the raised platforms, a structure which is constructed on the highest point of the flood-affected area to enable people to take shelter there during floods. The structure is used for public utility during the dry season. The raised platforms are higher than the highest point of the last flood. The raised platforms have emerged as a model of resilience of indigenous peoples to adapt to the risks and consequences of living with climate vulnerability.

The communities are also working to address the changing climate by combining their indigenous information with other resources such as Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC), an organisation that studies the impact of floods on local communities and aims at building community resilience in the flood-prone area of Dhemaji. These communities have also come forward to converge with UNICEF and RVC in piloting the Child Friendly Spaces concept – ‘a temporary structures (built of bamboo and tarpaulin) created in an identified safe location where the children are protected from any kind of physical harm and psychosocial distress during disasters like floods, and also help in continuation of learning and development.’ For implementing the Child Friendly Spaces, the community is engaged in the process of site selection, selection of facilitators, their training, and construction of CFS. While government officials including PRI representatives support with ensuring presence of ASHA and AWW workers and teachers to ensure continuity of services. 

The relevance and function of a community-based resilience approach is a shared responsibility between the communities, individuals, governments and other participants, and while the priority should be for the finding long-term solutions, the way forward will determine on recognising and supporting the local community’s efforts towards building resilience.

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