Open Access Scientific Reports

Your Research - Your Rights

Assessing the Adaptive Capacity of Coastal Communities in Guyana to Climate Change

Research Article Open Access
Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus, Guyana, South America
*Corresponding author: Michelle Kalamandeen
Department of Biology, Faculty of Natural Sciences
University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus
Guyana, South America
E-mail: [email protected]
Received March 07, 2012; Published December 05, 2012
Citation: Williams M, Kalamandeen M (2013) Assessing the Adaptive Capacity of Coastal Communities in Guyana to Climate Change. 2:626 doi:10.4172/ scientificreports.626
Copyright: © 2013 Williams M, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.
The impact from climate change may be more severe in developing countries, such as Guyana, where there is a high level of poverty, creating potential risks like damages to ecosystems, water resources and coastlines, impacts on food resources, particularly food crops, and health. At the community level, climate change damages are often centred on the environment, which is the main source of livelihood for rural communities. Livelihood opportunities are often instituted in traditional activities such as agroforestry, hunting, gathering, fishing or non-traditional activities such as tourism, monoculture agriculture and large-scale fishing. This research identifies hazards and vulnerabilities to climate change faced by two indigenous communities of Santa Rosa and Waramuri along the coast of Guyana; documented climate change vulnerabilities that are linked to communities’ livelihood; and identified historical and current indictors as well as potential coping strategies to climate change used by these communities.
Adaptive capacity; Climate change; Coastal community; Guyana
Global average surface temperatures have increased by 0.6°C within the 20th Century, with the 1990’s being the hottest decade in the last millennium [1]. The progressive nature of climate change can be seen in many countries, affecting human societies and economies. Rising sea levels, flooding of low lying coastal areas, fluctuations in precipitation leading to increase droughts and rainfall phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina, increase in diseases, and loss of biodiversity are examples of the impacts from increasing greenhouse gases emissions (Ibid).
For developing countries with poor economies, weak government and socioeconomic structures and frail market access, climatic phenomena such as El Nino and La Nina have especially grave consequences. Furthermore, a disproportionate share of the GDP of developing countries is in climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture. This is compounded by the fact that the majority of the world’s poor live in developing countries and as such, bears the brunt of climate change. The irony is that most developing countries have low greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries produce approximately 7% of global emissions versus emission from developed (45%) and emerging (48%) countries such as China and India [2].
Consequently, adaptation strategies to cope with the impact of climate change will be crucial [3]. The availability and access to the necessary human, social, natural and financial resources determines the strength of a community, their vulnerabilities and their adaptive capacity 1 [4]. Poor communities often do not have access to all or some of these vital resources, augmenting the vulnerability2 to climate change [5]. For example, poor communities often thrive on agricultural resources. Warmer temperatures lengthen growing seasons and increase carbon dioxide in the air which produces higher crop yields while simultaneously decreasing soil moisture which creates shifts in production patterns and the need for man-made irrigation systems [6]. Fluctuation in weather patterns can increase food prices, a social and financial dilemma for the poor. Globally, a 2°C rise in temperature could cost about 1% of the world’s GDP [7].
In Guyana, temperatures have transcended the norm within the last century (1909-1998) with an increase by 1°C in mean annual temperature [8]. Impacts from climate change create potential risks such as damages to food and water resources, flooding of populated coastlines, and the impairment of ecosystem services [9], and the latter being the basis for many traditional livelihood opportunities such as agroforestry, hunting, gathering, and fishing. Of the poor communities within the ten (10) administrative regions of Guyana, communities in Regions 1, 8 and 9 were deemed the poorest3 [10] as their main economic livelihood is derived from agriculture and forest sectors. As such, communities within the above regions have a high probability of being incapable of dealing with any drastic changes in the environment that may arise from a climatic crisis. McGuigan et al. [11] highlighted that a good indicator of how communities respond to drastic changes in weather patterns can be observed via El Niño and La Nina phenomena.
In 1998, the Government of Guyana declared a state of emergency due to the unprecedented drought conditions produced by El Niño. Rainfall was 50% below normal in 1997 and 85% below usual in March 1998. The impact of the El Niño phenomena resulted in severe water shortage affecting 80% of the Guyanese population (759,000 inhabitants), which reduces food supplies as sea water moved upstream into agricultural areas and crops failed.
According to Wahlström and Weber [12]:
“The most severely affected areas are Region 1 (north-west) and Region 9 (south-west), home to some 23,000 indigenous Amerindians, where, in addition to drought, fires have been raging. Crops and livestock have suffered, significantly reducing food supplies. People employed in mining, agriculture (especially subsistence farming), forestry and fishing are seriously affected.”
Communities were unprepared for the drought conditions generated by El Nino. Damages estimated by the Guyana Rice Board and the Guyana Sugar Corporation totalled approximately USD 30 million (Ibid). Other impacts to the GDP were not calculated. The Government of Guyana’s response was limited, committing approximately USD 1 million to an emergency programme to deliver clean drinking water to the most affected areas of Greater Georgetown and USD 350,000 for the hinterland communities. International and regional assistance was also requested to aid communities.
In 2011, news reports acknowledged the adverse effects of La Nina in Guyana through abundance of rainfall, which resulted in flooding of coastal areas, namely large sections of the capital city, Georgetown, islands in the Essequibo River, and along the West Coast of Berbice. The impacts on communities in Guyana were reported locally and regionally [13,14]. The geographic location that brings weather hazards like high rainfall variability combined with the low incomes, inadequate health provision and low quality public services in developing countries such as Guyana enabled numerous vulnerabilities and make adaptation to climate change quite difficult [8].
If climate change is unpredictable, it is difficult to do preventative adaptation. Adaptation by communities is largely local, so the focus is primarily on future local climate and its impacts. Because this is decidedly uncertain as climate models are not very specific to an area, it is exceedingly probable that reactive adaptation rather than preventative adaptation will occur as seen by the responses to El Nino and La Nina phenomena in Guyana. As such, community’s response to climate change will depend significantly on its resilience, access to resources to limit its vulnerabilities and adaptive capacities by accessing traditional knowledge of past coping techniques [4].
Communities throughout history have developed traditional ways of coping with climatic change [15]. These practices may be linked to knowledge about agriculture, hunting, fishing, foraging, use of medicinal plants and the best methods to combat extreme climatic variations. For example, villagers of Surama Community in Guyana cope with environmental changes by dividing chores between men and women [16]. The coping strategies of men included decreased food consumption, seeking of additional jobs in Brazil and in mining and logging areas, improved farm management and increased labour input. Those of women included diversification of food sources and change of family diet. An example of this was the use of the forest cockrit4 to make porridge. Women worked as domestic help and got involved in other income generating activities such as weeding, craft, embroidery and sewing until the men returned, collection of government aid, and alternative income sources (for example, casual labour as maids) were sought, and sharing of resources (Ibid).
All adaptation strategies may not fit all communities. This knowledge may be vital for the present time. Although these traditional activities may not provide a solution to global change, they may be effective in the community setting. Adaptation options will evolve as knowledge relating to climate change increases, and information is gathered on the success or failure of adaptation options [18].
Because traditional knowledge is fragmented, and to some extent, neglected, learning of the different coping strategies by indigenous communities is limited [19]. The aims of this paper are, therefore, to document the climatic vulnerabilities that are linked to communities’ livelihood; and identify historic and current indictors and potential adaptive strategies to climate change used by two (2) indigenous communities within the poorest region (Region 1) of Guyana. The two (2) communities, Waramuri and Santa Rosa, were selected based on their dependence on climate sensitive livelihood activities such as subsistence farming, fishing and hunting; proximity to the coast, population; potential vulnerability and accessibility.
The methodology used for this research was the Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (CVCA) methodology [20]. The CVCA allowed for analyzes of vulnerability to climate change and the adaptive capacity at the community level through a combination of community knowledge and scientific data to yield a greater understanding about local impacts of climate change and devising solutions. This method also assesses the role of local and national institutions in facilitating adaptation. CVCA was considered very interactive, allowing for participatory actions from community members in an informal setting using local dialect. In essence, “everyone sits and talks”. Establishment of focus groups in each community (one per community) was essential. This allowed for other tools to be implemented by the authors including:
1. Construction of a hazard map: a map outlining threats and resources;
2. Creation of a seasonal calendar: to identify periods of stress, hazards, diseases, hunger, debt, vulnerability, etc.;
3. Development of a community historical timeline: to allow insight into past hazards, changes in their nature, intensity and behaviour;
4. Development of a community vulnerability matrix: to determine the hazards that have the most serious impact on important livelihoods resources; and
5. Creation of an institution participation Venn diagram: to understand which institutions are most important to communities.
For the purposes of this research, the CVCA method did not allow engagement of individuals within the community. The CVCA method treated the community as a whole. The authors found that this strategy was not practical when dealing with communities that are spatially and geographically widespread as is often the case with indigenous communities in Guyana. As such, an additional questionnaire was developed to garner inputs from individual community members.
Other methods such as the CRiSTAL: Community-based Risk Screening Tool–Adaptation and Livelihoods [21] and “A resilience approach to social assessment” [4] were reviewed for efficiency, adaptability and outputs to communities in Guyana. The CVCA methodology was chosen above other methodologies due to its comprehensiveness and adaptability of use in Guyana’s communities.
This research was conducted in Waramuri and Santa from June– July, 2011 by the authors with a total of 100 individuals targeted per community by questionnaires and the CVCA method. Respondents to the questionnaires in Waramuri and Santa Rosa were mostly between the ages of 15-40 years. There were few respondents over the age of 60. Comparative analysis was conducted using graphical illustrations on the data collected for each community.
Results and Discussion
Hazard mapping, seasonal calendar, historical timeline and vulnerability matrix
In Waramuri and Santa Rosa, food is acquired by fishing, hunting, farming and shops. Few individuals participated in livestock farming in both villages, while subsistence farming is conducted by a majority within the villages. The main crop planted in the villages was cassava. Other crops include plantain, peas, potatoes, peanut, ginger, ochro, corilla, and cucumber. Farmlands are considered common pool resources in both communities.
From the hazard maps developed by Waramuri and Santa Rosa Villages, it was noted that the collective resources that are potentially at risk from the impacts from climate change included the forests, the Moruca River, farms, wells, dams and community infrastructures such as houses, shops, schools and the medical centre. Hazards currently faced by both communities can be seen in Table 1.
Table 1: Hazards compared in Waramuri and Santa Rosa and their impacts on resources.
Pest increase was the highest reported change seen in the environment over the past 10 years followed by a decrease in the number of animals and fish in Waramuri and Santa Rosa. Residents of Santa Rosa (52%) and Waramuri (96%) highlighted that changes in weather pattern was noticeably hotter and drier over the past ten years, with 2011 being hotter than the previous years.
Farmers from Santa Rosa and Waramuri, and individuals living within the Haimaracabra islands and the forested Para division in Waramuri Village were considered more at risk from the above identified hazards. In Guyana, indigenous communities are often granted communal land titles, which increase their vulnerability to climate change. Individual households lack private property rights which limited access to secure markets and reduce investments in the land as incentives are shared communally. Additionally, access to loans for development of farms is non-existent in Guyana as commercial banks do not accept communal land title when awarding loans. This may prevent communities from effectively adapting to climate change by decreasing the investment required to diversify crops and develop the land.
The vulnerabilities experienced currently within the community were different than those experienced 10 years ago due to the unpredictability of the weather. The safest place identified in the mapping for Waramuri was the village office located on a small hill. Santa Rosa community could not identify a place in the community that was safe from hazards.
Coping strategies developed were relatively little. For example, farmers continued to work on their farms regardless of whether condition (Table 2 for seasonal calendar and activities conducted throughout the year in Waramuri and Santa Rosa Villages). Providing access to capital and markets and establishing secure property rights which will encourage investments may lead to positive responses to climate change. However, it is difficult at present to determine what each household should do to adapt to climate change.
Table 2: Calendar of events in Waramuri and Santa Rosa Communities.
Currently, community activities and festival are in sync with weather patterns, for example, planting of crops occur within the Dry Season. When changes in climate occur, poor communities are often constrained by financial resources and as such implement inexpensive adaptation strategies (Tables 3 and 4 for historical and current coping actions for Waramuri and Santa Rosa respectively) as compared with rich individuals who can consider more options. In Waramuri and Santa Rosa adaptation strategies used included use of thatched roof homes, planting a diversity of crops, digging drains during the wet season, digging of wells during the dry season, men leaving the village for extensive periods to seek employment in the cities and in mining camps at Port Kaituma; individual households creating small businesses such as selling cassareep and crafts; and housewives making changes to meal preparations within the home. For example, cassava bread may be used in the morning and evening for meals, while rice is prepared during the lunch period.
Table 3: Traditional and current knowledge of coping strategies in Waramuri Community.
Table 4: Traditional and current knowledge of coping strategies in Waramuri Community.
The extent to which climate affects households and the options available for adaptation will determine which outcome is best suited for each individual instead of as a collective. Communities such as Waramuri and Santa Rosa are not homogenous, with individuals participating in various livelihood activities, ranging from environmentdependent jobs such as farming and fishing, to public employment such as teachers, nurse, assistants, and so forth. Designing a response programme for adaptation requires a comprehensive understanding of the local conditions and the needs of the targeted community.
Institutional participation
Recognising the engagement of different groups within the community will provide an understanding of which institutions are most important to the communities and provide insight into the accessibility of services and availability of social safety nets. For effective adaptation strategy, access to services is essential. By developing nonmarket assets, it provides resources for households to cope with climate change, and become less reliant on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture. Public service is limited in Waramuri, with the only service readily available being the medical centre. As such, households resort to using oil lamps and those who can afford it, utilize generators. Access to public services in Santa Rosa was high and included medical, financial (Moruca Credit and Development Trust), garbage, electric (Moruca Power and Light), counselling, religious and phone services. These services were considered relatively accessible to community members, though some were unaware of services such as garbage collection and financial support. Developing nonmarket resource also has the advantage of lifting communities out of poverty, decreasing their vulnerability as mentioned in Section 5.1, Table 1.
A number of organisations work with the community but their level of contact is varies with some villagers being hired or trained (Figures 1 and 2 for organisations functioning within Waramuri and Santa Rosa respectively). Organisations include the Guyana Marine Turtle Conservation Society (GMTCS), the Guyana Election Commission (GECOM), Volunteer Service Organisation (VSO), Ministry of Education, Ministry of Agriculture, the Catholic Church, and Guyana Red Cross Society.
Figure 1: A Venn diagram showing the organisations functioning within the Waramuri Community.
Figure 2: A Venn diagram showing the organisations functioning within the Santa Rosa Community.
All organisations are not selective of gender. The Waramuri Women’s Auxiliary Group has access only to women. The men, however, help in the transportation of crafts and home made products for sales at festivals and in the cities. Other groups are found within the churches in the community. There are no groups that are excluded from membership or service for the organizations. Support is offered sometimes to the communities from the different Ministries and organisations. Information is communicated to and from these organisations via radio set, letters, and cell phones.
Control, access and use of resources are important in determining the capacity for communities to adapt to climatic changes. For example, in both communities all members have access to common pool resources such as fishing ponds. However, there is little responsibility of assigning management strategies such as quotas during droughts. The use of resources in an efficient and sustainable way facilitates adaptation [ 4]. Additionally, common property resources where there are poorly protected individual property rights and market diversification failure, adaptation to climate change becomes more difficult as dependence on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture and forest increases.
From the data, it can be seen that the theory that rural communities are less resilient, more sensitive, and hence, more affected by climate change and the impacts it harbours, holds true. Seeing as adaptation is fostered through the security of livelihoods [22] in order to secure food, and hence life, it is fair to say that Waramuri is most sensitive to climate change than Santa Rosa. This is due to heavy reliance on land-andwater resources for farming, fishing and hunting; lack of diversification of income generating livelihoods, and access to nonmarket services to assist in the adaptation process.
In order to solve these issues, institutional response via access to nonmarket and marketable services are required. Additionally, response to climate change and therefore adaptation may have to occur on an individual/household basis rather than as a collective, i.e. treating the community as homogeneous, particularly in Guyana. Creating incentives for individuals may help thrust public adaptation strategies. Incorporating both traditional and modern ways of adaptation can help in alleviating individual and collective impacts from climate change.