The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Adapting to Environmental Change: Evidence On Basic Needs and Livelihoods in Three Developing Countries

Sunday, January 19, 2014: 8:45 AM-10:30 AM
HBG Convention Center, Room 103A Street Level (San Antonio, TX)
Cluster: International Social Work and Global Issues
Symposium Organizer:
Lisa Reyes Mason, PhD, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Background and Purpose. The field of adaptation to environmental change aims to decrease human vulnerability and increase human capacity to cope with or adapt to change. Environmental changes—such as seasonal rainfall variation, land degradation, and deforestation—threaten people’s ability to secure basic needs of food, clean water, and shelter, and have broader implications for social and economic development and human rights. This symposium presents three studies from the Philippines, Kenya, and Madagascar which examine basic needs or livelihoods in the context of environmental change. Each study also considers how program and policy interventions can be identified or more effectively implemented given different individual, household, or community needs and preferences.

Methods. The three studies showcase a variety of methods which social work researchers can use to examine the social dimensions of environmental change: randomly-sampled household surveys, simulation modeling, ethnography, participatory strategies, and archival review. Studies are conducted in urban and rural settings in three different countries. In Mason’s study, bivariate and multiple regression analyses of survey data are used to document disparities and test associations among gender, resources, and household water insecurity in urban Philippines. In semi-arid Kenya, Lesorogol and Boone combine computer simulations and ethnography to create scenarios that model different land use choices and their implications for household well-being and area ecology. Samburu pastoralists can consider these scenarios as they assess new land use possibilities. In Wagner’s study, multiple qualitative methods are used to compare participation in conservation planning and adherence to conservation rules in two rural Madagascar communities.

Results. All three studies identify key heterogeneities among individuals, households, or communities which matter for adaptation to environmental change. Mason finds wide disparities in water insecurity among households by season, determines that specific financial and physical resources may protect households from seasonal water insecurity, and addresses how more equitable distribution of these resources could be pursued. Lesorogol and Boone, meanwhile, find different preferences among community members for rules and practices that will govern use of private and public lands for livelihood activities. These preferences align with different resources and social positions of community members, with implications for how competing preferences will be resolved in the future. Wagner, comparing a more homogenous Malagasy community with a more migrant and transitory one, finds that participation in planning processes and adherence to conservation rules are stronger in the former community, where customary law is included in conservation and development plans. In the transitory community, failure to include all members’ perspectives in the planning process may explain the lower outcomes.  

Conclusions and Implications. Together, these studies point toward developing adaptation-related programs and policies that consider inequitable or divergent needs and preferences that exist among populations. These studies also illustrate the important contributions that social work research can bring to field of adaptation to environmental change, through continued focus on the most vulnerable groups and marginalized communities.

* noted as presenting author
Using Simulation Models and Ethnography to Understand Changing Livelihoods Among Samburu Pastoralists
Carolyn K. Lesorogol, PhD, Washington University in Saint Louis; Randall Boone, PhD, Colorado State University
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