Why we focus on semi-arid regions
As the global impacts of climate change become more clearly understood, so too does the need for people to effectively respond and adapt to these changes. Home to hundreds of millions of people, the semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia are particularly vulnerable to climate-related impacts and risks. These climate-change hot-spots are highly dynamic systems that already experience harsh climates, adverse environmental change, and a relative paucity of natural resources. People here may be further marginalised by high levels of poverty, inequality and rapidly changing socio-economic, governance and development contexts. Although many people in these regions already display remarkable resilience, these multiple and often interlocking pressures are expected to amplify in the coming decades. Therefore, it is essential to understand what facilitates the empowerment of people, local organisations and governments to adapt to climate change in a way that minimises vulnerability and promotes long-term resilience.
To date, most adaptation efforts have focused on reactive, short-term and site-specific solutions to climate-related vulnerabilities. Although important, these responses often fail to address the root causes of vulnerability, nor shed light on how to proactively spur larger-scale and longer-term adaptation that has positive effects on socio-economic development. Using both research and practice to address this information shortfall, the primary aim of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project is to produce future-focused and societally-relevant knowledge of potential pathways to wellbeing through adaptation.
ASSAR’s overarching research objective is to use insights from multiple-scale, interdisciplinary work to improve the understanding of the barriers, enablers and limits to effective, sustained and widespread adaptation out to the 2030s. Working in a coordinated manner across seven countries in India, East Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa, ASSAR’s research is case study based and strives to integrate climatic, environmental, social and economic change. The dynamics of gender roles and relations form a particularly strong theme throughout our approach.
Each of ASSAR’s teams conducts regionally-relevant research focused on specific socio-ecological risks/dynamics that relate centrally to livelihood transitions, and access, use and management of land and water resources in water-stressed environments. Focal research themes in each region are: agro-intensification in West Africa; land and water access in East and Southern Africa; and land use, land cover and livelihood changes in India.
Over its five-year lifespan (2014-2018), the cross-regional comparison and integration of research findings will enable ASSAR to develop a unique and systemic understanding of the processes and factors that impede adaptation and cause vulnerability to persist.
Putting our work in practice
To ensure that project case studies are aligned with the needs and realities of people living and working in semi-arid regions, and to increase the chances that findings and recommendations are taken up, ASSAR seeks to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships with a wide spectrum of stakeholders from communities, civil society organisations, research institutions, governments and non-governmental organisations.
By guiding stakeholders through participatory scenario planning processes ASSAR aims to build a common understanding of current adaptation needs and past adaptation failings, while promoting the co-production of adaptation responses that can yield appropriate, tangible and lasting benefits. By using stakeholder mapping and analysis to better understand the power dynamics of different stakeholder groups, by working with and alongside boundary organisations and the private sector, and by engaging in effective communication, capacity building and advocacy campaigns, ASSAR seeks to inform and promote sustainable development pathways that have the best prospect for enhancing the wellbeing of the most vulnerable and/or marginalised in the coming decades.
Through these activities, ASSAR will better integrate the domains of adaptation research, policy and practice. By building the adaptive capacity of primary stakeholders, policy and decision makers, practitioners, boundary organisations, and academic researchers, this integration could bring about previously inconceivable strategies for change and transformation. In time these efforts could also contribute to a change in the attitudes and behaviours of key stakeholders, prompt easier and better access to resources by vulnerable groups, and enhance the power and agency of vulnerable groups to lessen or remove adaptation barriers, and exploit adaptation enablers.