Integrating Climate Science and Participatory Vulnerability Assessments to Reorient Watershed Planning Process : A Methodological Experience

Bhavana Rao

Dryland ecosystems display high vulnerability to climate change. Given the considerable adaptation needs in these regions, watershed development is undertaken with a dual mandate of ecological restoration and poverty alleviation. In India, climate change adaptation is not mainstreamed into the watershed planning process. This business-as-usual approach fails to respond to risks posed by a variable and changing climate. The inability of such a program to keep pace with an uncertain weather regime may result in unintended consequences; furthering maladaptive processes and rendering investments inappropriate. Thus attention needs to be directed to the reconceptualization of watershed development planning.
This paper details an approach that integrates climate science with participatory vulnerability assessments to design a climate adaptive watershed development plan. The utility of the approach was tested across three Indian states – Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Drawing from these experiences and through an illustration of a case study, the paper highlights gaps within the existing planning process and how the proposed methodology was used to define adaptation strategies that aligned with local adaptation needs to address locale specific hazards and support community-based adaptation at multiple scales better.
The approach has two main steps. The first step involves conducting a vulnerability assessment through climate analysis and participatory vulnerability assessments. Climate analysis is conducted for three main time periods – historical, present and future. The results reveal major climate risks, current and projected trends. The participatory vulnerability assessment is conducted using Community Driven Vulnerability Evaluation – Programme Designer (CoDriVE-PD) and other community engagement tools to understand locale climate risks, non-climate stresses, impacts, responses and adaptive capacities of various social groups. The results of the two are interfaced in the second step to define watershed and livelihood adaptation measures.
Firstly, the integration of climatology and participatory vulnerability assessments, help determine the dimensions of watershed structures based on projected trends in rainfall and temperature regimes and aid in appropriate site selection thus making them climate adaptive. Secondly, stratification in the society greatly influences the ownership and access to resources thus having a direct bearing on adaptive capacity. This approach helps design community specific livelihood interventions based on existing vulnerabilities, exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. Thirdly, the integration of community vulnerability assessments aids in adaptation tracking of watershed projects thereby allowing for mid-course corrections.