Friday, July 30, 2010

Social and cultural limits to adaptation

Megan Rowling in Reuters AlertNet: Long-established customs, traditional beliefs and behaviour dictated by gender, ethnicity, caste and age - all these can stop people getting to grips with the challenges of climate change. But this has yet to be well recognised or investigated, says a paper released this month by the London-based Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

…What tends to be ignored are the social and cultural rules that limit peoples' ability to protect themselves from weather and climate hazards, and to exploit opportunities that may arise as temperatures, sea levels and rainfall patterns change, says Lindsey Jones, the author of the ODI briefing.

"There has been a focus on the technological, economic and natural barriers to climate change adaptation. Overcoming these has been seen as the solution because they are fairly easy to identify and quantify," the think-tank researcher told AlertNet. "Social barriers are very hard to identify, and incredibly hard to quantify ... they are very context-specific."

To help understand the problem, Jones collaborated on a 12-week project looking at how caste and gender shape the way rural communities in western Nepal are dealing with a shifting climate, which is expected to have negative impacts in the impoverished, mountainous country where many depend on rain-fed farming. The study throws up some interesting findings. It shows that, even though the country's caste system was formally outlawed in the 1960s, it still dominates social behaviour and influences the way people respond to hazards like floods.

For example, in one flood-prone area, members of lower castes said they were frequently excluded from using "safe spots" identified by their communities, and ordered to find shelter in more vulnerable places. They were told to move or "you will make this place dirty".

How lower-caste Hindu women react to climate stresses is further restricted by the burden of their household duties, their lower level of education than men, their exclusion from village meetings and politics, and their duty to abide by their religious belief system….

Old man in a resthouse Bridshram in Kathmandu (Nepal), shot by Oudeschool, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

No comments: