The 15th CCT discussion was dedicated to these issues of vulnerability, resilience and community-based adaptation (CBA) to climate change within low-income, urban informal areas.
“There is a pressing need in Egypt to realize the effects of climate change and how we will prepare for them in both urban and informal areas,” Mahmoud Wafik Sabae, the moderator of the discussion, said in his opening remarks to a full house
The latest assessment report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that most counties in the MENA region are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Egypt is considered very susceptible and will be increasingly affected by the consequences of climate change: water availability will be severely impacted, as will food security.
Home to over 82 million people, Egypt has the largest population in the MENA region and there are forecasts its population will double by 2050 alongside a rapid rate of urbanization. This rapid growth rate Egypt’s cities are experiencing largely occurs in the absence of any governmental or urban planning in so-called informal areas that are underserved, densely populated and highly polluted. Of the Greater Cairo Region’s 20 million inhabitants, close to 60% live in these informal areas and lack access to basic services and infrastructure such as clean drinking water, sanitation and waste disposal.
In Egypt, the issue of climate change and its consequences has not been discussed in the context of low-income, urban informal areas. Specifically, approaches that encompass community-based climate change adaptation, vulnerability and resilience have not been addressed within this urban informal context. And while it is critically important in the fight against climate change to focus on mitigation measures, in some situations it is also necessary to find solutions to adaptation.
Dr. David Dodman of the International Institute for Environment and Development and Senior Researcher for Human Settlements and Climate Change Groups, explained that when it comes to climate change, there is very little association between the people causing climate change and the people who will be most adversely affected by it. “Any responses will have to take place at a variety of different scales,” Dr. Dodman said, acknowledging the huge challenges to be faced financially, technically and politically.
CBA, Dr. Dodman explained, addresses the exposure of low-income groups to particular hazards and strengthens the adaptive capacity of these groups. CBA was developed from participatory approaches to development and involves local stakeholders by drawing on people’s knowledge, skills and experiences while building on existing local cultural norms. To date, various CBA initiatives have been implemented successfully in Africa, Asia and Latin America
Saber Osman, representing the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) and member of the Climate Change Central Department, UNFCCC / IPCC Focal Point, said the Egyptian government is trying to promote and market the CBA approach. Since 1996, he explained, climate change adaptation policies have been incorporated into the government’s framework.
“We want to work with people, especially since the 25 January Revolution, and made a link between the government and the public. How can we provide and support them with what they need? We are trying to integrate this new approach, not just CBA, but others, such as community-based ecosystem management, as well. In the future, we will maximize the benefits for Egypt from such bottom up approaches,” Osman said.
Regina Kipper of the Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas and Head of the Component Cities and Climate Change Adaptation GIZ Egypt stressed that development is about implementing things in a sustainable way.
“To make it sustainable you have to include the people, you cannot impose things on them without first asking what they want. This can be quite a challenge sometimes, especially within the current context. People have to learn what participation means and how they can express their opinion,” she noted.
Sarah Rifaat, DEMENA Climate Ambassador Project Manager, 350.org Arab World Coordinator and Co- Founder of the Egyptian National Climate Change Coalition (ENCCC), echoed Kipper’s outlook on development and sustainability. “Civil society works from the bottom up. Any change or solution needs to come from the people, because it concerns them,” she said.
“You really need to listen and understand the community you are working with. You cannot come with your preconceptions, especially if something has not been tried before. You also need to see what has worked elsewhere. One of the barriers to development is that so many civil society groups work in isolation of other organizations. We have to take stock of the bigger picture – what can we learn and do in the community that will have a positive impact,” Rifaat explained.
Dr. Dodman noted there is a moral obligation for people trying to improve the prospects and livelihoods of communities to take in to account the priorities of those communities, “Adaption that is driven by the community will have longer lasting effects for better cost effectiveness.”
Several initiatives implementing CBA approaches exist in Egypt, many of which have popped up from civil society since the 25 January Revolution, though they are not labeled specifically as CBA explained Rifaat. Schaduf, a roof-top garden initiative allows people to feed themselves and sell the excess as profit, raising their income and providing resources to live a better life. “People are recognizing the important role civil society plays in solving their own problems and driving change,” Rifaat said.
Osman pointed out the pioneer work the EEAA has done with Bedouin communities in protected areas. “We have helped them to become more resilient by providing training courses to work in tourism and produce traditional products. We believe we have done a good job,” he said.
Kipper said that while GIZ has been involved with urban upgrading work in Egypt for quite some time, climate change adaptation was only recently incorporated into the program in 2011. When discussing how urban resilience to climate change could be improved, it was discovered there were no examples of cities in arid zones to build on. Thus, GIZ began conducting a study on different aspects, such as assessing the exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity of greater Cairo residents to learn what would be adequate coping measures for climate change impacts.
“We started from scratch here. This study will be the basis for building a strategy for measures that should be implemented with residents, community members, civil society and the Egyptian government. It could also be used as an example in other cities and countries,” Kipper explained.
Describing how the ENCCC was established, Rifatt said, “ENCCC is a coalition of private sector actors of civil society and activists, of people who recognize the urgency of the climate crisis, whether from the adaptation or mitigation side. We have monthly gatherings where people have opportunities to discuss and collaborate, which is what we need. One NGO on its own cannot cover everything as each actor is usually focused only on one sector – water, energy, agriculture, and so on. People have united around climate crisis and want to create change because Egypt is very vulnerable. Sustainable development is what will enable us to continue as a country.”
When the floor was opened to the audience, several though-provoking questions led to further discussion on CBA and its inherent challenges. When queried on whether relocation was an option, panelists offered up different insight.
Osman said that despite people living in bad conditions and it often being easier to relocate people rather than fix their current situation, relocation is not an easy task within
Egyptian culture because people might not accept it. He advocated working with communities at their present location, unless it becomes unsafe to do so, in which case he suggested they be relocated.
Dr. Dodman admitted he had difficulty with this view, “Because it is hard to define what is safe. What is the acceptable threshold of risk when people’s lives are involved? The exposure to a particular hazard is only one component. Moving them may reduce their exposure to that hazard, but if it removes them from their livelihood and social network, you may actually be increasing their vulnerability.” As a result of this realization, he said, there has been a drastic shift in the way of thinking in the last decade, and matters of relocation call for very serious consideration.
When the issue of public awareness regarding climate change and initiatives was raised, Osman said the government is working with different organizations and stakeholders to increase awareness. But awareness and understanding will take time, he said, as Egypt is a big country with a lot of deep-rooted problems. “We have new communication strategies, but need your support,” Osman directed toward the audience.
Kipper referred to the work being done by the Information and Decision Support Center, but highlighted the need for stronger cooperation with civil society to create more knowledge and awareness in the field.
“Who is going to be your target group and who do you want to inform? You cannot send the same message to people in low-income areas as you can to very educated people. You have to tailor your message, and make it clear and train the media on the right message,” she explained.
Dr. Dodman noted the important role community architects have to play. “We need people who understand the community, livelihood and social needs of people living in low-income communities. We need to come up with building standards that are attainable by low-income residents that provide protection from environmental threats and hazards.”
Taking this point further, Osman added, “We should have regulations laws on any future buildings and enforce them so we do not end up with 80 or 90% of people living in informal areas. People think the government operates isolated from people and there is no trust. I believe the CBA approach will increase trust and also improve governmental policies. We are trying to implement a bottom up approach and build on what we have to increase resilience.”
“Egypt should use the chance this transformation is offering, to benefit from it and create an enabling environment where new approaches can be tried out and people get the chance to make a change in their life,” Kipper said.
“We need to think of climate as a social justice issue. The word ‘environment’ makes it easy for people to marginalize so many issues. So many issues are linked and they all fit into the vision of what we want for our country. Now is the time as civil society and for individuals to get involved and push for these changes that we really need in our communities,” Rifaat concluded.
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