Community-based assessment to identify bottom-up vulnerabilities. | Donald Bason

From Studies to Stakeholders—Integrating Climate Science into Community Adaptation Planning

By assisting 20 communities in four Lower Mekong Basin countries to establish local models of science-driven climate adaptation, the USAID Mekong Adaptation and Resilience to Climate Change (Mekong ARCC) program created a precedent that can be applied in regions around the globe vulnerable to climate uncertainty.

More than 60 million people depend on rice, livestock, and fish farming — to make a living in the Lower Mekong. However, this web of ecosystems spanning the mountains of Laos to the Vietnam Delta is highly vulnerable to rising temperatures and extreme weather events.

To help these mostly poor communities plan for future generations of farming, the Mekong ARCC program established a proof of concept for rural adaptation programming that linked climate science with local experience. The Mekong ARCC team used downscaled climate modeling and interpreted data in terms of specific impacts on eco- and agrarian systems. The team also incorporated community perceptions of climate threats and changes over time to assess risks and develop holistic adaptation plans that incorporate climate-smart agriculture.

Analyzing Local Vulnerabilities

Mekong ARCC diagnosed communities’ vulnerabilities to climate by considering data related to:

  • Exposure—projections consider average daily maximum temperature, seasonal rainfall, months of drought, flood duration and frequency of extreme weather events
  • Sensitivity—climate thresholds for local crops, species and ecosystems
  • Adaptive capacity—political, economic and social factors include climate change awareness, organizational structure, village assets and access to outside resources
  • Impact—community vulnerability (i.e., exposure plus sensitivity) reduced by adaptive capacity

To build out these assessments, Mekong ARCC also engaged with communities to:

  • Identify key physical and natural resources, and subsistence and income-generating livelihoods they depend on through community mapping
  • Identify the nature, location and timing of climate threats using hazard maps. This included identifying areas prone to flooding, landslides and drought, key dates of the seasonal calendar and gender roles as well as historical analysis, such as timelines of significant climate events that impacted livelihoods
  • Rank livelihood vulnerabilities by comparing hazard maps to asset/livelihood maps and climate hazard calendars to production cycles for key crops, livestock and forest products, and considering community factors related to adaptive capacity.



Integrating climate science with community knowledge for adaptation planning.

Merging Scientific and Local Perspectives

Mekong ARCC facilitated side-by-side reviews of the climate science and local assessments. The team presented data from both viewpoints using maps, charts and graphics. Residents compared data and discussed similarities and discrepancies. Ultimately, partner communities either confirmed or adjusted their preliminary evaluations of vulnerability considering the science-based analysis. After synthesizing the scientific and local information, residents developed scenarios that led to a vision of desired future outcomes. They then prioritized options that provided the basis for developing their community adaptation plans.

Community-Led Adaptation Activities

After reviewing adaptation plans for climate resilience, good development and economic viability, Mekong ARCC supported pilot initiatives in five community sites in Lower Mekong countries. These climate-smart agriculture activities included:


Water buffalo—a staple of SE Asian agrarian societies.
  • Integrated farm management. Kampong Thom, Cambodia (system of rice intensification), Chiang Rai, Thailand (agroforestry) and Kien Giang, Vietnam (drought-resistant rice varieties) developed field trials to test climate-resilient techniques. To diversify their livelihoods, Kampong Thom built ponds to raise household catfish and Khammouan, Lao PDR built frog ponds.
  • Improved rice-shrimp farming. Kien Giang, Vietnam incorporated salt-tolerant rice into its farming system and installed low-tech nurseries to improve resilience in shrimp. Residents also instituted water-quality monitoring for salinity levels in aquaculture ponds and installed a loudspeaker system to provide early storm-warning and daily weather and salinity updates.
  • Livestock management. This included building livestock housing that improved ventilation and drainage and incorporated organic bed materials with enzymes to break down waste (bio-mattress). In Chiang Rai and Sakhon Nakhon, Thailand residents adopted native chicken and pig species that could sustain higher temperatures. Women, ethnic minorities and the landless poor benefitted primarily, increasing supplemental income and thus their resilience.


Strategic Objective
Vulnerability Assessment, Resilience, Adaptation

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