Taking VRA to the national level in Botswana

20 Nov 2018 - 16:30

By Chandapiwa Molefe, Hillary Masundire and Daniel Morchain.

The University of Botswana and Oxfam GB have been planning for further Vulnerability and Risk Assessment (VRA) workshops since the success of the initial VRA workshop in Bobirwa in November 2015. These plans came to fruition this August with a national training event for District Development Officers and Economic Planners. The training highlighted the value of the VRA approach. As Botswana’s Acting Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Mr Machana Shamukuni noted at the event, the VRA methodology makes development planning participatory, representative and inclusive.


Journey to the national VRA 

The national training, which took place in Mahalapye, came about in response to the Bobirwa Economic planner (at the time) acknowledging that VRA is a tool that can be used in economic planning processes. The Senior Assistant Secretary as well as the District Commissioner appreciated the Bobirwa workshop as it was participatory and inclusive. They recognized that VRA outputs could readily be used for sub-district planning. This led to follow-up meetings with the Director of Community Development (at the time) and more consultative meetings with the Bobirwa government leadership. 

Following field visits to Bobirwa with Jesse DeMaria-Kinney (Oxfam GB) and Georgina Cundill Kemp (IDRC), and discussions with local leadership, the University of Botswana team, Oxfam and IDRC agreed that there was more to gain through providing VRA training at the national level. We found the VRA training be an important opportunity to work with the government to promote deeper thinking about climate change impacts and adaptation, as well as to increase stakeholder participation in planning processes. Particularly, bringing marginalised groups into decision making spaces was a key objective. That is an important focus of ASSAR’s work in climate change hotspots -- regions especially vulnerable to anticipated climate change impacts, which, in addition, are highly populated. This training was also a wonderful opportunity to show the government the value added through collaborating with consortia like ASSAR that combine research organisations and practitioners.

The follow-up meetings reiterated the direct relevance of the VRA method to district planning processes. What was supposed to be another VRA workshop in the Bobirwa sub-district ended up being a nationwide training of all District Development Officers and Economic Planners in all 16 Districts – 10 rural and six urban. We had two officers coming from each district: an Economic Planner (Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development) and a District Officer Development (Ministry of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration). We also had senior staff from the National Disaster Management Office, Directorate of Rural Development, the Chief of Bobirwa, and officers from the Mahalapye sub-district Council – about 40 officers altogether. The VRA training focused on this level of planners because they are best placed when it comes to working with communities in generating local-oriented solutions to vulnerabilities. These officers provide a critical interface between local communities and central government.

The objectives of the training were to transfer knowledge to planners who are longer serving and have more influence and impact at the district level, hence leaving behind trained expertise on the ground when the ASSAR project ends. The training also aimed to equip District Planners to use the VRA methodology in development planning. 

(Watch the video of the national VRA training event in Botswana).

Government sees value in VRA

Large amounts of resources went into preparing for the VRA training. The government of Botswana also saw the benefit in training all the planners countrywide. Government co-hosted the VRA training by providing transport, lodging and subsistence expenses for all the planners. The Mahalapye training took place from 13 to 14 August 2018, followed by an actual VRA workshop with the Mahalapye community from 15 to 16 August..

The VRA training was graced by the presence of the Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Affairs (DVCAA), of the University of Botswana, Professor Sebudubudu and the Acting Minister of Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration, Honorable Machana Shamukuni. To kick-start the training workshop, the DVCAA gave an address about the mandate of the University and how it endeavours to work with communities. He highlighted that the research conducted by the University should be addressing the needs of communities, and ASSAR’s approach is an example of how that can be pursued. 

Minister Shamukuni gave an address as guest of honor, following the DVCAA. The Minister started off by appreciating that Botswana is well known for its democratic processes through the kgotla system. In the kgotla system anyone is free to voice their opinion. He acknowledged the inclusive and participatory nature of VRA.  

The planners were receptive and eager to learn about the VRA method. They immediately acknowledged how the VRA could be used in the planning process. However, they mentioned that there were some missed opportunities in which the VRA approach could have been useful. The interest and turn-out of the participants exceeded our expectations. 

On the third day of the VRA, the Mahalapye District Administrator welcomed participants from different social groups within the Mahalapye sub-district as well as the Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Mma Tshireletso, who is also MP for Mahalapye. Tshireletso officially opened the VRA workshop, urging the Mahalapye residents to take full advantage of the VRA to articulate their issues and offer possible solutions for government to consider. The Bobirwa Kgosi (chief) and Mahalapye Kgosi also welcomed participants and stakeholders to the workshop. 

The last two days consisted of the actual VRA workshop with the knowledge group from the Mahalapye sub-district. This was an opportunity for the trained Economic and Development Planners to apply their knowledge and skills. Knowledge is indeed powerful when it is applied. The ASSAR facilitators ended up feeling a little displaced because the planners took over small group facilitating while Daniel Morchain, from Oxfam GB, and Prof. Masundire, from the University of Botswana, maintained their roles as the main facilitators.

The Mahalapye participants were enthusiastic to see such a workshop being held in their sub-district. The top 12 hazards and issues, as well as top 12 social groups, identified for the Mahalapye sub-district were as follows: 


Future VRA engagement

The planners were able to implement their skills during the workshop through facilitating some of the small group discussions. This was testament to an effective knowledge transfer from the ASSAR team to the planners. It will be important to have follow-up events with the planners, especially since the mid-term review is approaching soon. This would be an opportunity to implement the VRA method and make sure it is adopted country-wide. Following the Mahalapye VRA training and workshop, a very active network has been built. It is called “ASSAR VRA Alumni for 2018”. There are ongoing discussions about possible ways for further engagement. The network also acts as a support tool for the VRA alumni for regular communications and discussions about upcoming opportunities. This provides room for a bigger network that includes national-level decision makers, such as those from different government departments involved in drought assessment. 

Following the successful training of District Officer Development and Economic Planners, officials and decision-makers with the Botswana government expressed enthusiasm for linking VRA with development planning processes and disaster risk reduction and preparedness in some districts and urban areas. There was also interest from the Office of the President, through the National Disaster Management Plan Office (NDMO), to form a partnership in which the University of Botswana and Oxfam could assist with running follow- up VRAs in other districts. 

Two districts were highlighted that could benefit from the VRA process (Ngamiland and Chobe), as well as two main cities (Gaborone and Francistown). The National Disaster Management office has prioritised the Chobe District as it is facing major hazards and risks. Currently, there are developments going on in Chobe which are vulnerable to disasters. There are complex issues affecting humans and ecosystems, such as human-wildlife conflict (causing human mortality as well as infrastructure and crop destruction), and periodic flooding which results in villages being cut off from all forms of communication. There are also livestock diseases such as anthrax. A new bridge across the Zambezi is also under construction, which is going to increase mobility between Zambia and Botswana.   

The outcome from the Chobe VRA will be used for disaster response in the Chobe District. The VRA report will be used by the National Disaster Management Office to respond to, and address, disasters. The Rural Development Council will use the report to feed into their District Development Plan. The Chobe VRA is planned for January 2019.

In conclusion, we have laid the groundwork for the  uptake of the VRA methodology for nationwide planning. We will try to find ways in which we can support the government in further implementing VRAs across the country and thus continue promoting our agenda of inclusivity. Furthermore, follow-up activities would provide an opportunity to factor in planning for climate change adaptation in Botswana. The country needs to have concrete plans for adaptation that factor in the anticipated impacts of global warming of 1.5°C and more. Botswana is already vulnerable to high temperatures and recurrent droughts, hence a sense of urgency needs to be established.

We are also pleased to report that ASSAR's VRA-related efforts, which Oxfam presented during the Technical Expert Meeting on Adaptation in May 2018 at the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn, have been highlighted in the UNFCCC technical paper "Opportunities and options for enhancing adaptation planning for vulnerable ecosystems, communities and groups."  


The core facilitating team after a very productive, long and fantastic four days. From left to right: Chandapiwa Molefe, Daniel Morchain, Bhavana Rao, Hillary Masundire and Mmakwena Moesi.