Toward Anticipatory Adaptation: Transforming social-ecological vulnerabilities in the Okavango Delta, Botswana

Authors: Jamie Shinn*, West Virginia University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Africa
Keywords: transformative adaptation; vulnerability; adaptive capacity; Botswana
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 5, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The ability of people to respond successfully to environmental variability is determined by existing vulnerabilities and social-ecological relationships. At the same time, dominant policy and scholarly approaches to adaptation remain apolitical and pay inadequate attention to the links between structural vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Using a case study from the dynamic wetland environment of the Okavango Delta, Botswana, this paper draws on work in political ecology, vulnerability studies, and transformative adaptation to emphasize the need for an anticipatory approach to adaptation. While flooding variability is an inherent part of life in the Delta, annual floods in 2009, 2010, and 2011 were higher than in many decades and had drastic consequences for wetland-based livelihoods. This paper investigates the impacts of these floods, responses to them, and the implications of those responses. Findings reveal that the Government of Botswana began to regulate wetland-based livelihoods more strictly during the years the high floods occurred, and to encourage residents to switch permanently to dryland livelihoods. While this appears to be a practical response to flooding variability, it ultimately resulted in decreased adaptive capacity for members of the wetland-based Bayei tribe. By situating these findings within the historical context of marginalization of ethnic minorities and rural communities in the country, and considering them in the light of predictions of future increases in environmental variability in the Okavango Delta, the paper identifies sites of potential transformation that would lead to improved adaptive capacities for vulnerable groups, in advance of the most significant impacts of climate change.

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