Update 1: The Resilient Islands Project in the Dominican Republic

This summer I am working on a project called the Resilient Islands Project, which is a collaboration between The Nature Conservancy and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. For this project, I am exploring three main research questions.

  1. What techniques are used for assessing a community’s vulnerability to climate change?
  2. How can EbA (Ecosystem-based Adaptations) and CbA (Community-based Adaptations) methods be implemented by the Resilient Island Project to address climate change in the Caribbean?
  3. How can geospatial tools be implemented to help communities prepare for changing climate conditions?

My research this summer will be split into two parts – conducting remote research from home in North Carolina and a week of field work in the Dominican Republic in July. During this first part of the summer I am focused on answering my first research question, “What techniques are used for assessing a community’s vulnerability to climate change?”. To answer this question, I am working on two main objectives – literature review and indexing census variables to create a vulnerability index.

Before field work begins I am focused on two objectives. The first is conducting a thorough literature review to understand methods that are used to analyze community vulnerability to climate change. Specifically, I am focused on how communities can adapt to climate change on a community level and how communities can utilize the natural resources and ecosystems around them to prepare for changes due to climate change.

The second objective is analyzing the data available from the Dominican Republic census to develop a vulnerability-resilience to climate change index that can be used to analyze how prepared a given community is for the effects of climate change and how quickly the community can adapt. On this aspect of the project, I have been collaborating with colleagues at BYU and The Nature Conservancy. Using the already developed Grenada vulnerability-resilience index, from the first phase of the Resilient Islands project, we have selected questions from the census that will be useful in gauging vulnerability. To begin this process, I read the Grenada report and examined which variables were used in that project to create an index. Variables included in the index include human and civic resources, health of the population, and access to critical infrastructure and facilities (Weis et. Al. 2014).  I examined the 200-plus census questions from the Dominican Republic to match up the questions to the variables we hoped to analyze, sorting the census questions by the types of information they could provide. Some of the variables, such as distance to hospitals and community buildings, will not be answerable with census data. Instead, this data will be collected in the field using GPS units, and later analyzed using geospatial tools. Other variables, such as level of education or employment, will be answerable using census data. Many of the combinations of variables and census data were straightforward – a question about livelihood gets paired with the question about whether an individual’s livelihood related to fishing or tourism. However, other variables were not as easy to answer with a census question. For instance, employment is one of the variables used to determine climate vulnerability. When looking for information in the Dominican Republic census, there were several questions that asked about employment, including “During the past week did you have (name) some employment or work for pay or gain?” and “During the last week did you (name) perform an activity for pay or gain?”. At this point, structuring the index becomes more complicated. What exactly does employment refer to? Should only the formal job sector be considered or should informal employment also be counted?

My first attempt to match census questions and variables allowed me to create some pairings, but left me with other questions about methods for index creation I could not answer. I realized I needed to better understand which data was used to meet each variable and how this data was measured. To obtain this information, I began reading the papers that were the basis for the methods section of the Grenada report. Through reading this report, I learned about how variables were selected for inclusion in the index, how the model for the vulnerability-resilience index was structured, what sorts of uncertainty the model created, and how these uncertainties were handled. I am currently continuing my literature review and preparing for fieldwork.

During the first part of my study, I ran across several difficulties. One challenge I have encountered is the amount of data available regarding climate change. Studies vary in geographic location and scope – some are local studies which contain community-gathered data, while others analyze trends worldwide. Worldwide studies allow countries to be compared to one another to an extent, but also involve generalizing the difficulties faced in a country. For instance, one part of the United States may be most threatened by water shortage, while another is threatened by rising sea-level. Conducting national level studies loses some of the specificity of this data. Additionally, the studies analyze many variables with lots of uncertainty. Different studies focus on different factors that may contribute to climate change and often measure these factors differently, which makes it difficult to compare studies directly or quantitatively. On top of that, climate change includes many uncertainties in the projections especially when considering time. Some studies, such as Vulnerability to Climate Change: A quantitative approach (Moss et. al. 2001) account for the uncertainty of what will happen with climate change by analyzing three different scenarios/rates of climate change globally.

One lesson I’ve learned so far is that with many different partners working on this project, timelines are complex and shifting. Many different stakeholders are involved in this project including The Nature Conservancy, the Red Cross, students at BYU and community partners in the Dominican Republic. Being involved in a project with many collaborators involves coordinating lots of different groups and timing different parts of the project. Originally, I was going to conduct two weeks of field work with students from BYU. However, due to changes in timing and funding, I will now be traveling for one week and will be assisting with drone imagery data collection.

I am currently in the process of finalizing the dates for my field work data collection. I will be traveling to the Dominican Republic in the last week of July to visit Miches, a community in the northern Dominican Republic. My current plan is to assist with analysis of the biophysical health of communities, collect data on coral reef health, and creating a pilot study of GIS information.

 

Sources:

Moss, R. H., et al. VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE A Quantitative Approach. p. 88.

Weis, Shawn W. Margles, et al. “Assessing Vulnerability: An Integrated Approach for Mapping Adaptive Capacity, Sensitivity, and Exposure.” Climatic Change, vol. 136, no. 3–4, June 2016, pp. 615–29. Crossref, doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1642-0.

 

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