Guest blog: Costs to bear - poverty reduction and climate change resilience


In a recent World Bank blog article, the Mauritian response to the Sahel drought crisis of 2011 - Emel (“hope” in Arabic) - was applauded. Indeed, the applause was highly deserved. Instead of appealing for humanitarian aid, the Mauritian government took 9% of national government expenditure and put it towards a climate resilience program that diversified its response based on need. Those living in extreme poverty received food vouchers, the poor received subsidized food, and pastoralists received the livestock feed essential for sustaining their livelihoods.


The programme demonstrates that although such national responses can be costly (2.6% of GDP) they can also be very successful in getting the population through tough times brought on by climate change. Fighting poverty, the article asserted, is the best way to fight climate change.


Fighting poverty is an important step in dealing with the devastating impacts that climate change can bring, and approaches like those undertaken by Mauritians are highly needed to address the immediate vagaries of poverty, which is exacerbated by the changing climate. Collecting data on what proportion of GDP was regained (for example as a result of the pastoralists retaining their livestock herds) and indeed the net effect of the programme is imperative. However, it would be exceedingly difficult to estimate (particularly when trying to account for malnutrition, deaths from hunger, and the like). To ensure both short term and long term planning there is an urgent need for long-term approaches, which focus on investment with viable returns.



Investing more in fighting poverty and climate change at the same time


What if 9% or even just 3% of 2012, 2013 and the coming 2014 national expenditures were put towards activities that fought both poverty and climate change? What if investments were made in ecosystems that could provide food, lasting “green” jobs and income, and at the same time could truly insulate communities from future climate change impacts? Ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches have proven to be tried and true investments, and will become ever more valuable as climatic changes take effect.


Ecosystem-based adaptation is a newly-defined activity in the quest to respond to climate change, but its techniques and theory are as old as humans. Ecosystem-based adaptation is simply the category of activities that use biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people and communities adapt to the negative effects of climate change at local, national, regional and global levels.


The comprehensive approach has many associated benefits, including poverty reduction, resource-use diversification, and green jobs. EbA takes a whole ecosystem approach to building climate resilience by investing in management, rehabilitation, and diversification of natural resources so that the community can benefit from ecosystem servicesnow and in the future.


Ecosystem based adaptation in practice


In Burkina Faso, years of inadequate rainfall and over burdensome agricultural practices have left lands degraded, with soils deprived of nutrients. As rainfall becomes more infrequent under a changing climate, the impacts on agriculture could grow even worse. Yet even in what is considered the most degraded lands in Burkina Faso farmers are already reclaiming land. One innovative farmer, Yacouba Sawadogo, fought back against climate change with an ecosystem approach that improves water and soil nutrient retention.


Sawadogo rehabilitated degraded soils through the use of “Zais.” Zais are pits dug into fields that compost organic materials and manure in degraded fields and restore biodiversity and nutrients for crop growth. They also concentrate water near seedlings during dry spells. This water harvesting and soil replenishing technique contributed to the rehabilitation of an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 hectares throughout Burkina Faso. The added nutrients also contributed to better soils and healthier ecosystems such that farmers are experiencing production increases of 80,000 to 120,000 tonnes. These effects have reduced poverty and food insecurity by providing many valuable inputs at zero monetary cost to the community - simply by improving ecosystem services against the effects of climate change.


Healthy ecosystems can prove to be a win-win for poverty and for climate change resilience, while investing in ecosystems now can mean greater benefits and less spent on aid later. Africa boasts vast reserves of natural resources and even in places where natural resources are limited, ecosystem resources still have immense potential to aid communities in emerging from poverty and food insecurity. We should invest in this potential before the costs are too much to bear.


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