TJ16.2 Climate Services for Livelihood Resilience in Coastal Bangladesh: Bridging the Gaps between Science, Society, and Policy through Institutional Innovations

Wednesday, 9 January 2019: 8:45 AM
North 226C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Saleh Ahmed, The University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; and J. Buizer

While the entire country of Bangladesh is exposed to climate stresses, the densely populated coastal region along the Bay of Bengal constitutes a vulnerability “frontline.” Every year thousands of people, whose livelihoods are largely dependent on farming and fishing, face extreme vulnerability to human and economic losses due to extreme weather related to climate variability and change. As a response to their vulnerabilities, people in the region are also active in various community-driven adaptation initiatives. A key indicator of local adaptation to climate change is the degree to which people have access to and are able to apply knowledge and information about weather and climate into their livelihood decisions. Usually, local farmers in Bangladesh adjust to weather and climate anomalies by altering their livelihood decisions, as well as through mobilizing and reallocating available household resources. In most cases, farmers also look to external sources of support. One such external source is information on local weather and climate variability, which is generally provided through “climate services” at the national level. Information provided to the farmers has traditionally appeared in the form of early warning systems and short-term weather forecasts. It is important to recognize that weather and climate information is not inherently valuable in rural agrarian settings. Despite the promise of climate information, there are many challenges that impede the use of climate services in rural household decision-making. From the perspective of the producers of climate information, many regions lack both time series and cross-sectional climate data, which limit the ability to generate credible climate information. Also, from the perspective of information users, the available information often does not address local need or is not compatible with local knowledge or belief systems. Even in situations where climate data are available at a sufficient spatial and temporal resolution, the technical presentation extends beyond the ability of local users to incorporate the available information into their decision-making process, generating what Lemos et al. (2012) called a “usability gap.” In most cases, this gap is due to limited knowledge and understanding on how climate variability and change affects local livelihoods. The information must be tailored to the specific needs of the users (e.g. farmers) if it is to have a positive impact on the production outcomes and local livelihoods. However, in the context of coastal Bangladesh, there is a clear disconnection among the stakeholders of climate services: users of science-based information (e.g. farmers), producers of the information (e.g. Bangladesh Meteorological Department), distributors of information (e.g. local government, weather office), community development enablers (e.g. NGOs), research institutions, government organizations, and other development partners. These various actors do not interact in a way that maximize the of climate information and services. The climate services literature suggests that a socially engaged, use-inspired process can improve the utility and use of climate services in pursuits of livelihood resilience. The lack of effective communication in coastal Bangladesh offers limited opportunity for coproduction of climate knowledge and therefore has limited implications for decision-making at various scales. Despite the dire need to reduce the adverse climate impacts, the establishment of user-inspired and locally relevant climate services has been slow, largely due to the lack of institutional capacities and practices, and to Bangladesh’s practice and history with top-down post-colonial development. Focusing on this issue, we propose that institutional innovations are critical to creating a social space for co-producing climate knowledge and for maximizing the use of climate information by rural farmers and fishers for their disaster risk reduction efforts. Institutional innovations aimed at bridging science, society and policy can help minimize the “usability gap,” which is largely due to limited knowledge and understanding about how climate variability and change affects local livelihoods. A boundary organization for climate services can connect scholars and practitioners with regional and local clients (e.g. farmers and extension agents) to identify critical issues, decision-making needs, and information gaps. Based on analysis of data collected in coastal Bangladesh in 2017, this paper proposes an innovative institutional design for a boundary organization that creates a social space aimed at meeting the challenges of producing, providing, and applying climate information and that generates usable science-based knowledge for local farmers and fishers. Since weather and climate anomalies are likely to affect all aspects of rural livelihoods around the world, how we utilize and combine climate services into farm-related decisions in solving empirical livelihood challenges is critical. This paper will shed light not only on how to improve local adaptation practices bridging gaps between science, society and policy, but it will also inform more broadly how societies can react and reorganize in times of any major crisis through various forms of institutional innovations.
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