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Local Institutions and Adaptation to Climate-Induced Water Problems

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Harry Diaz
Harry Diaz Director, Canadian Plains Research Center University of Regina, Regina, SK, S4S 0A2, Canada. Phone: 306 585 4758; Fax: 306 585 48E-mail:

Keyword(s): water governance, institutions, adapative capacity, vulnerability, adaptstion, rural communities, cl;imate change
AbstractIn spite of the growing consensus regarding global warming and its impact upon water resources, there is still a limited understanding of the adaptive process of human communities to climate stressors. In natural systems, especially unmanaged systems, adaptation is always autonomous and reactive. Planned social adaptation, however, is qualitatively different to the extent that it involves a community’s decision-making process oriented to modifying behavior and practices; as well as external programs in order to make this process more efficient. Thus, the existence of a regional adaptive capacity – the ability and predisposition to use and develop local and regional resources in the pursuit of adaptation—is fundamental for the sustainability of communities in the climate change. The IPCC has defined a set of determinants of adaptive capacity, which includes the existence of proper institutional settings. The objective of the presentation is to discuss the roles that institutions play in fostering the adaptive capacity of a set of rural communities in the semi-arid regions of Canada and Chile. The institutions considered in the analysis involve both formal and informal institutions, at the community and regional governance levels. The paper deals mainly with the water governance theme of the conference and complements the presentation of Corkal and Hurbert, with their emphasis on governance institutions. The data that supports the arguments is derived from a comparative study of institutional adaptive capacity in two river basins, the South Saskatchewan River Basin in western Canada and the Elqui River Basin of north-central Chile. The study is based on a vulnerability approach that seeks, first, to assess the current and past vulnerability of the rural communities and the role played by governance in reducing or increasing this vulnerability; second, to assess future climate conditions for the communities’ area; and third, to evaluate how present and past vulnerabilities of the system will be affected by future climate conditions. The assessment of the current and past vulnerabilities of the communities, which is the central topic of the presentation, was carried out using an ethnographic approach, which includes the analysis of archival and secondary data, the use of key informants, in-depth interviews with community members, and focus groups on specific community issues. The results of the assessment indicate the existence of a relatively strong community adaptive capacity to climate variability and extreme climate events in both countries. This capacity rests upon local water conservation programs, household and farm water management techniques, social capital, and diversification of farm production and income sources. This adaptive capacity, however, is limited by the existence of other stressors, which include governance rules and programs. The paper’s conclusions emphasize the need to increase the attention to the multi-dimensional and differential nature of community vulnerability and the institutional settings that contextualize the community exposure and adaptive capacity.
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