By Stefano Barchiesi. My first contact with the SEARCH project was in Morocco in 2011. Recently I went back to Marrakesh, this time well acquainted with the SEARCH project’s multi-country team of committed water and community engagement professionals. It hadn't been my first contact with resilience, though.
I have been working on resilience, this enticing facet of sustainability, for the past 5 years. This is since IUCN's Water and Nature Initiative (WANI) started taking stock of lessons learned in nearly a decade of applying the ecosystem approach to river basin management.
One of the key learnings was that ecosystems offer effective and rapid solutions for adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change. As most of these impacts are felt primarily through water, ecosystems provide invaluable services every time they interact with the water cycle. They intercept rainwater, filter pollutants, buffer against the effects of floods or droughts.
More broadly, resilience is understood as the capacity of a social-ecological system to absorb, manage and adapt to shocks from external factors, including climate change. The resilience of ecosystems underpins the resilience of people. Likewise, building community resilience through innovative action in water and other natural resource management can strengthen the intrinsic resilience of ecosystems.
If we consider a river basin with its inhabitants as our system, shocks there will follow from the combined impacts of extreme weather events and shifting demands for water, energy and food. In this context, experience from the WANI initiative in Latin America, Africa and Asia suggested that resilience is built by acting at different levels. Ecosystems, economics and social change are all important.
This resilience framework for adaptation to climate change was first presented in a perspective paper on the role of the environment as water infrastructure at the 5th World Water Forum in Istanbul. Since then I have been writing and editing case studies with an aim to refining ways to report a shift in resilience.
The same framework is now being developed and piloted by the SEARCH Project, including approaches to systematically monitor and measure adaptive capacity, which is a fantastic opportunity to move towards workable resilience indicators!
SEARCH, which stands for Social, Ecological and Agricultural Resilience in the Face of Climate Change, is a 3-year regional project working in five countries. Implementation is piloted in demonstration sites to enable joint learning with stakeholders through local action planning and testing of interventions designed to increase climate change resilience.
All demonstration sites are quite unique in their own right: climate model downscaling, encroaching agriculture and livelihood options in Morocco; changing cropping seasons, irrigation and training of farmers in Egypt; urbanisation, downstream pollution and flow restoration in Jordan; alternating drought and floods, soil consolidation and groundwater recharge in Palestine; mismanagement, rotational grazing and forest maintenance in Lebanon.
In the course of the first and second year, efforts have been undertaken to further strengthen the SEARCH partnership, especially to ensure sustainability of its activities beyond the project period. Most interestingly, though, a methodology to apply resilience building in practice has also been tested on the ground to now amend the framework according to project results.
For this reason, SEARCH brought all the partners together in Marrakesh, Morocco from 27 to 29 April. As part of the Regional Support Group, I helped the country teams assess the current project situation, identify and prioritise constraints and conflicts, explore and validate different scenarios to better reflect on the evolving resilience framework. What lies ahead will be key to explaining how to use it for integrating climate change in development and adaptation of local and national strategies and even linking to regional and global processes. In other words, promoting water governance capacity across boundaries.
Stefano Barchiesi is Project Officer with the IUCN Global Water Programme and can be reached via email: stefano.barchiesi [at] iucn.org