by Quentin Wodon
In the previous two posts in this series, I argued that households in climate-affected areas are highly vulnerable to extreme weather shocks, and often cannot cope and adapt adequately to changing climatic conditions. Households also are often not able or willing to relocate to areas less affected by poor climatic conditions. The evidence was based on two recent studies – one for the Middle East and North Africa region where droughts and floods are common, and the other for the Sundarbans in South Asia (let me know if you would like a print copy) where cyclones and associated sea surges are frequent. I would like to complete this series of three posts with a discussion of the implications of the findings for policy makers and service clubs.
Implications for Policy Makers
First, communities affected by changing climatic conditions and weather shocks need more government support to help with short-term coping and medium-term adaptation. The cost of weather shocks and climate change is already felt today by many households, but most have limited ways to cope and adapt. While the two studies on which this series of three posts are based did not provide a cost-benefit analysis to assess which types of programs and policies might help households the most in each country context, there is a clear gap in the public provision and financing of coping and adaptation interventions. This leaves individuals and communities vulnerable and alone in making decisions, which may in turn lead to uncoordinated action and “maladaptation”.
The role of safety nets and social protection programs is especially important to enable households to cope. But the design, coverage and placement of these programs should not be just for the purpose of minimizing the immediate or even future impacts of weather shocks and climate change; safety nets should be seen as an integral part of governments’ broader strategy towards poverty reduction and – in this case – urbanization. They should aim to provide portable skills (human capital) such as a better education for those that need support the most, so that migration becomes more beneficial for the migrants and their family back home through remittances.
Second, migration policy needs to understand and address climate-induced migration in the context of other push and pull factors. Migration is a form of adaptation, but it appears to be often seen as a solution of last resort by households. One reason for this is that migration may be perceived as more costly than other strategies such as using savings, selling assets, or getting into debt to cope with shocks. In addition to material costs (travelling and re-lodging), migration implies substantial risks due to unknown outcomes at the place of destination. It also entails non-economic costs stemming from the uprooting of individuals, households, and sometimes communities. Those left behind may be precluded from reaping the benefits from migration when remittances are hampered by the high cost of remitting or by the fact that migrants have a hard time finding jobs. Policy responses and development interventions need to recognize that migration is or should be a viable and legitimate mechanism through which households address risks to their livelihoods, and a means of adapting to weather shocks and changes in climatic conditions and their impacts. Migration should not be considered as something that needs to be avoided.
Third, enabling communities in sending areas to better leverage the benefits of migration is a better alternative than progressive forced displacement. The effective economic insertion of migrants in urban and other destination areas leads to opportunities for the sending communities through remittances. But without a facilitating environment, remittances may be used for pure consumption and the accumulation of non-productive assets. Among others, incentives should be provided for sending areas, when feasible, to use remittances for productive investments.
Implications for Service Clubs
What do the findings imply for service clubs? There cannot be any cookie-cutter recommendation, but when service clubs are implementing projects in climate-affected areas, they should maintain a balance between responding to immediate needs, and confronting long-term challenges. Many households are left vulnerable in climate-affected areas due to lack of government programs. After weather shocks (or other natural disasters such as the recent earthquake in Nepal) hits, Rotarians should mobilize to provide emergency relief. As I mentioned it on this blog, I wonder whether there is a potential role for the Rotary Foundation (TRF) to play here. Currently, TRF does not seem to have a system to provide incentives (matching funds) for individual Rotarians or clubs to donate in times of crisis. Many Rotarians donate when a major crisis hits, but they do so through other organizations. If TRF could set aside some funds to match individual or club donations by Rotarians at time of crises, this could help the foundation raise more funds. It could also help TRF gain even more visibility as a humanitarian organization.
Beyond emergency relief, what may matter even more in the long run are innovative project responses. It would for example be interesting to assess whether investments by Rotary in education projects in climate-affected areas help in improving the likelihood that younger individuals migrate under good conditions to help themselves as well as their family back home. Perhaps one could even think of pilot projects in which Rotarians involved with banking and credit institutions facilitate the flow of remittances from migrants by reducing the cost of remitting, while also promoting investments for productive uses in sending areas through some forms of matching grants for communities. Such projects would have to be evaluated properly to ensure that they are indeed impactful.
These are just a few ideas, but innovative projects implemented by Rotary clubs as pilots, with proper evaluation of impacts, could have larger impacts down the road than traditional grants as other organizations would be able to scale up initiatives that appear especially promising. Not all global grants should be designed that way, but more could. The need for innovation is perhaps largest in those areas of the world where households are especially vulnerable due to repeated weather shocks that will be exacerbated by climate change, as well as other natural disasters.