Prioritising Opportunities for Vulnerable Communities in Malawi

Oct 26, 2017

Women in Zomba district identifying the key factors/characteristics contributing to their local resilience and specifying the types of interventions which they perceive to best build resilience


In April 2016, a state of emergency was declared in Malawi when an estimated 6.5 million people were left food insecure after devastating floods. The damage, losses and recovery costs of the floods were estimated at US$829 million. Further to this, worsening food shortages caused by severe drought also devastated the country over the 2015–2016 agricultural season, destroying nearly 250,000 hectares of crops and leaving the country short of food, including maize, Malawi’s main staple. The cost of the drought was estimated at US$366 million.


Malawi has an elevated risk of climatic and hydrological hazards which include floods, dry spells or both affecting the country, almost yearly. This is particularly challenging for rural dwellers who depend largely on smallholder rain-fed farming to feed their families and support their livelihoods.


Because of the country’s vulnerability to climate change impacts, responding to such high risks of climate change requires innovative approaches that focus on community-driven participatory planning, the implementation and promotion of sustainable technologies, policies and livelihood strategies, and a consistent focus on putting locally-driven needs first.


Despite the significant political will and commitment shown to address vulnerability through various climate change policy strategies, significant barriers exist for the effective implementation and mainstreaming of resilience strategies into development planning.


These barriers include poor policy implementation, both human and technical capacity challenges and knowledge gaps. These barriers are exacerbated by the cross-sectoral nature of climate change.


UNDP works with the Government of Malawi to map pathways to build resilient communities and minimize disruptions from climate disasters that affect everyday life and the local economy.


The Government of Malawi through the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, with support from UNDP and the Global Environment Facility Least Developed Countries Fund (GEF) is implementing a project in five districts – Mangochi, Machinga, Nkatabay, Zomba and Ntcheu – to support the implementation of adaptation priorities through strengthened, decentralized and national development.


The project aims to establish and then demonstrate the institutional framework required to mainstream resilience and adaptation into development planning at national and local levels.


The project took a community-based approach, incorporating new information, thinking and approaches, as well as connection with a whole new set of actors, to engineer sustainability into project outputs from day 1.


The basic process of planning has involved analysing information, identifying actions and relevant actors, and prioritising and operationalising based on these community-driven needs assessments.


How Participatory Planning Works


Participatory planning has become an essential element for resilience strategies in Malawi. Lessons learned from the past indicate that successful interventions depend on the ability to manage climate change impacts, risks and uncertainty, and leverage evidence-based decision making to formulate project goals.


There is a deliberate effort to critically underpin adaptive capacity, enabling people to learn and use their knowledge and experiences to manage the risks and uncertainties that are associated with a changing climate.


In Malawi, UNDP has facilitated application of Community Based Resilience Analysis (CoBRA) methodology to build and incentivise Community Based Resilience Action Plans. CoBRA is a participatory resilience assessment methodology that is largely qualitative in its nature. It aims to identify locally-specific factors contributing to the resilience of households and communities, which face diverse types of shocks and stresses.


CoBRA assessment was undertaken in the Mangochi, Machinga, Nkatabay, Zomba and Ntcheu districts through a participatory process that involved targeting communities to analyse their situation and underlying causes of vulnerability. From there, these communities could plan and make better-informed decisions for their livelihood options and risk reduction strategies.


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