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Mobility is an important strategy to manage risk in semi-arid regions, but it doesn’t always lead to improved wellbeing. Whether moving or staying put, risks can increase for those with little agency. Conversely, mobility can provide the means to move out of risky locations and improve livelihoods. In these cases, migration contributes to improved wellbeing and adaptive capacity.
Semi-arid regions are crucibles of change in which different stressors coalesce, increasing the pressure on populations who are in many cases already vulnerable. Within these environments, mobility is an essential feature in many people’s lives, and represents a key risk-management strategy, enabling populations to respond to livelihood shocks and stresses. Over time, risks change and evolve as do risk management behaviours, including mobility. Unpacking the multiple, intersecting vulnerabilities that are manifest in semi-arid regions is critical to generate greater insights into the ‘how and why’ of risk management, and to enable more equitable and effective adaptive responses.
ASSAR investigated the role of mobility as an adaptive response to change within populations in semi-arid regions. The dynamic and intersectional nature of risks and responses is not well articulated in global environmental change literature. Using empirically-rich data, our research highlights how people’s approaches to managing risks are individualised but set within other social institutions, such as households and communities. It also points to the importance of mobility within risk-management strategies. Mobility can facilitate changes to risk portfolios in a number of ways, including accentuating or attenuating risks, eradicating risks entirely, or exposing populations to completely new risks. Conversely, sometimes mobility doesn’t lead to any changes in the underlying risks people are exposed to. Changes are shaped by a person’s agency, which is set within a web of broader social structures.
Over time, we see how the risks that people experience, and their responses to them, alter their wellbeing trajectories. Through a novel theoretical concept – the ‘adaptation option space’ – our evidence suggests that it can sometimes become increasingly difficult to shift downward wellbeing trajectories. Using the life history methodology helps to reveal these wellbeing trajectories, capturing the temporality of risks, livelihood choices, adaptation outcomes, and their interrelationships. This approach shows how current responses are influenced by past events, and enables us to infer how current behaviours may influence future, as yet unknown, events.
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Everyday mobility enables people in semi-arid regions to maintain their livelihoods, and manage risk
The use of mobility in semi-arid regions is the norm rather than the exception, supporting a variety of livelihoods reliant on natural resources (such as firewood collection or pastoralism), in addition to trading and more regularised commuting from rural areas to large urban settlements. Mobility is a key resource that people draw upon to manage highly dynamic conditions.
Risks and responses are dynamic and interact with one another to shape the options available to people over time
Mobility occurs within a dynamic context of intersecting risks and responses that change over time. These interactions shape the 'adaptation option space' – the space available to people to adapt given the risks they face, responses they undertake, and adaptive capacities they hold. Different individuals and households respond differently, and the outcomes of mobility also vary. The life history approach shows how risks and adaptation options change over time, and their implications on wellbeing. Knowing where people have come from helps to understand not only their current situation but also their ability to respond to future, as yet unknown, livelihood stresses.
Migration is not always beneficial so alternatives should be explored to avoid risks to migrants and those left at home
There are trade-offs associated with moving. At an intra-household level, migration and commuting can alleviate vulnerability for some family members while exacerbating the vulnerability of those left behind. At a larger scale, migration that is adaptive at a household scale can be maladaptive at a system- scale if cities are unable to provide for or absorb migrants who often live in highly vulnerable conditions. On a temporal scale, migration and commuting affect livelihood trajectories and choices of those beyond the migrants alone. We found evidence of migration decisions shaping opportunities across generations.
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Mark Tebboth (M.Tebboth@uea.ac.uk), University of East Anglia
Chandni Singh (firstname.lastname@example.org), Indian Institute for Human Settlements
Dian Spear (email@example.com), University of Cape Town
(searchable table coming soon)
Adiku, P. and Khan, A. 2018. Migration in climate change hotspots: Opportunities and challenges for adaptation. [Information brief]. Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). Link.
ASSAR. 2018. Do conservancies enhance the adaptive capacity of communities? Perspectives from ASSAR’s work in Kenya. [Information brief]. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
ASSAR. 2019. A focus on wellbeing can link adaptation to outcomes that matter to people. [Information brief]. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Berthe, T. 2016. La Migration et la Variabilité de la Vulnérabilité des Groupes Sociaux: Cas du Village de M’Pessoba. Master's thesis. Institut Universitaire de Développement Territorial de Bamako (IUDT). Link.
Biney, A. 2019. The role of remittances on adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers in Lawra district. Master's thesis. University of Ghana. Link.
Camfield, L., Leavy, J., Endale, S. and Tefere, T. In prep. ‘People who once had 40 cattle are left only with fences’: Coping with Persistent Drought in Awash, Ethiopia. Link to presentation.
CARIAA. 2018. Understanding migration in India. [Information brief]. Collaborative Adaptation Research in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). Link.
Davies, J., Singh, C., Tebboth, M. G. L., Spear, D., Mensah, A. and Ansah, P. 2018. Conducting life history interviews: A how-to guide. [Manual]. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Degefu, M. A., Assen, M. and Tesfaye, M. 2019. Prosopis juliflora: Impacts and management in the face of climate change in Ethiopia’s Middle Awash Valley. [Information brief]. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Few, R. 2017. Drought does not work alone. [Information brief]. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Few, R., Satyal P., Assen M., Camfield L., Leavy J. and McGahey D. 2018. The development-adaptation spectrum in dryland East Africa: mapping risks, responses and critical questions for social research. CARIAA-ASSAR Working Paper. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Few, R. and Tebboth, M. G. L. 2018. Recognising the dynamics that surround drought impacts. Journal of Arid Environments, 157: 113-115. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaridenv.2018.06.001. Link to summary. Link to information brief.
Few, R., Satyal, P. and Tebboth, M. G. L. In prep. Using a justice/ capabilities framing to understand people's vulnerability and adaptive capacity in the drylands of East Africa.
Gitonga, Z. and Visser, M. In prep. Impact of migration on household social protection and wellbeing: An application of dose-response using control function approach. Link.
Maharjan, A., de Campos, R. S. Das, S., Srinivas, A., Bhuiyan, M. R. A., Ishaq, S., Shrestha, K., Dilshad, T., Umar, M. A., Bhadwal, S., Ghosh, T., Singh, C., Suckall, N. and Vincent. K. In prep. Migration and adaptation in the context of environmental change: lessons from interdisciplinary work in South Asia. Link.
Michael, K., Singh, C., Deshpande, T. and Bazaz, A. 2017. Dimensions of vulnerability in rural and urban areas: A case of migrants in Karnataka. [Information brief]. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Michael, K., Deshpande, T. and Ziervogel, G. 2018. Examining vulnerability in a dynamic urban setting: The case of Bangalore’s interstate migrant waste pickers. Climate and Development. DOI: 10.1080/17565529.2018.1531745. Link to summary. Link to information brief.
Michael, K., Deshpande, T. and Bhaskara, K. In prep. The political economy of climate change and vulnerability in a neo-liberal city: A case of Bengaluru's informal settlements. Link to summary.
Plea, A. 2016. Stratégie d’Adaptation des groupes sociaux face aux changements climatiques: Cas du maraîchage dans le village de Koumbri (Commune de Yognogo, Cercle de Koutiala). Master's thesis. Institut Universitaire de Développement Territorial de Bamako (IUDT). Link.
Rahman, A., Basu, R. and Singh C. In prep. Exploring the interface between climate change and migration: evidence from India.
Rivers III, L., Sanga, U., Sidibe, A., Wood, A., Paudel, R., Marquart-Pyatt, S. T., Ligmann-Zielinska, A., Olabisi, L. S., Du, E. J. and Liverpool-Tasie, S. 2017. Mental models of food security in rural Mali. Environment Systems and Decisions. DOI: 10.1007/s10669-017-9669-y. Link to summary. Link to information brief.
Singh, C., Basu, R. and Srinivas, A. 2016. Livelihood vulnerability and adaptation in Kolar District, Karnataka, India: Mapping risks and responses. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Singh, C. 2017. Using life histories to understand temporal vulnerability to climate change in highly dynamic contexts. SAGE Research Methods Cases. DOI: 10.4135/9781526440358. Link to summary. Link to manual.
Singh, C., Rahman, A., Srinivas, A. and Bazaz, A. 2018. Risks and responses in rural India: Implications for local climate change adaptation action. Climate Risk Management, 21: 52-68. DOI: 10.1016/j.crm.2018.06.001. Link to summary. Link to information brief.
Singh, C. In prep. Migration as a driver of changing household structures: Implications for household livelihoods and adaptation. Link to summary.
Singh, C. and Basu, R. In prep. Moving in and out of vulnerability: Interrogating migration as an adaptation strategy along a rural urban continuum in India. Link to summary.
Tebboth, M. G. L. and Few, R. 2018. Considering the future of Prosopis: Participatory Scenario Analysis in Afar, Ethiopia. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Tebboth, M. G. L. and Few, R. 2018. Considering the future of the rangelands: Participatory Scenario Analysis in Isiolo, Kenya. Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR). Link.
Tebboth, M. G. L., Singh, C., Spear, D., Mensah, A. and Ansah, P. In prep. The role of mobility in changing livelihood trajectories: Implications for vulnerability and adaptation in semi-arid regions. Link to summary.
Wasonga, O., Kibet, S., Tebboth, M. G. L., Few, R. In prep. Do wildlife conservancies enhance the adaptive capacity of local communities? Perspectives from northern Kenya.
Yidana, A. A. 2016. Social differentiation in the vulnerability and adaptation patterns among smallholder farmers: Evidence from north western Ghana. Master's thesis. University of Ghana. Link.