Preparing for an uncertain future in Arakan

2015 proved to be a bittersweet year for climate change. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) confirmed it be the warmest year on record. Meanwhile, the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) in Paris last November ended with 195 countries signing a pledge to limit their emissions to by 40-70% by 2050 and reach carbon neutrality by 2100. But what does this mean for communities within the Coral Triangle?

For Arakan, a small community located in South Minahasa, North Sulawesi in Indonesia, it means feelings of hope mixed with urgency.

Poverty in Arakan
Community at risk. Arakan is one of many communities within the Coral Triangle that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change

Before Arakan was chosen as a climate change adaptation (CCA) site in 2013 by the Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle-Southeast Asia (CTI-SEA) project, the community was already suffering from the effects of climate change, such as stronger storms and floods. Their vulnerability was made worse by rampant mangrove cutting, increasing poverty, and the fact that the community is in a low-lying tidal zone. Villagers shared the impact of a storm in 2012 that destroyed 52 houses and how they lost up to 50 meters of their coast in the last three years.

Former mangrove area
Former mangrove area. As Arakan expanded they built over the lush mangroves. This made the soil more prone to erosion and the community exposed to storms.

Former mangrove area. As Arakan expanded they built over the lush mangroves. This made the soil more prone to erosion and the community exposed to storms.

According to residents, Arakan used to be a prosperous and stable fishing community up until the 2000s. This coastal community was one of the biggest seaweed producer in North Sulawesi a few years ago. With the impacts of climate change and degradation of their coral reefs, their fish catch eventually decreased, and they had to deal with more incidence of flooding and coastal abrasion. These events made it harder for community members to sustain their livelihood such that housewives needed to work to help supplement the family income.

In 2012, CTI-SEA chose Arakan as the site to pilot-test strategies that will increase the resilience of communities to climate change impacts. The goal was to raise the awareness of national and local government planners and decision-makers, as well as the coastal communities, about climate change.

In February 2014, the project carried out a participatory vulnerability assessment (VA) and helped the community prepare their climate change adaptation plan, which they have been implementing since then.

What’s in a CCA plan?

But how does a community adapt to a changing climate? It’s not as simple as adapting to the weather forecast for the week and bringing an umbrella. For low-lying areas, the worst case scenario we can expect is up to one meter of sea level rise by 2100. This would mean that a community like Arakan would be flooded and inhabitable. Because of this scenario, the village needs to prepare for the worst and strengthen its resilience. Otherwise, resident face the risk of losing the entire village if they are unprepared for the effects of climate change.

Early action adaptation planning

So what is Arakan doing to prevent this? The community and local government agencies are working with CTI-SEA and its regional partners to help implement their CCA plan. They are preparing the community so that residents can increase their adaptive capacity to address current and future climate and disaster risks.

A good CCA plan involves more than just making sure the community is not only alive in the wake of climate change but also a successful and prosperous one as well. More technical notes regarding CCA implementation in Arakan can be found in our experience notes.

Arakan focused on the most pressing issues identified by the community such as the need to rehabilitate mangrove areas and improve solid waste management practices. They also wanted to get better in managing disasters and to secure grants and technical assistance that will help them expand their seaweed farms.

Women’s group make headway in verticulture

Among these activities, the local women’s group has made good progress as the leader in conducting the solid waste management activity. They are implementing a vertical culture pilot program that recycles trash like plastic bottles. These are used to grow vegetables in small compact areas instead of using fields. The design of the vertical culture program can protect crops from flood and the community can easily move them inside for shelter during a storm. Thus, this strategy helps ensure a stable food supply for the community.

 

Social program highlights included an event in October 2015 where the Indonesian Red Cross, also known as PMI in Bahasa Indonesia, trained the community on disaster preparedness and improvement of the health and sanitation system. It was held to upgrade their skills and knowledge to disaster response. Residents learned first aid training, disaster management, and how to help alleviate the impact of the drought that Arakan was suffering from at the time.

Dealing with the challenges of improving seaweed production and mangrove rehabilitation

Among the difficult aspects of Arakan’s CCA implementation are its seaweed and mangrove rehabilitation projects. The community wanted to replant mangroves to protect their coastline and to enhance their seaweed production since it is one of their major exports in the past. These two projects encountered several problems such as tornadoes destroying the seaweed or goats eating the mangrove saplings.

The community and local government agencies are facing these problems head-on and are trying to find alternate solutions. Without the mangroves holding the soil in place, the soil will merely be washed away. Environmental degradation and disaster risks will continue to threaten and even worsen the situations on what we see in Arakan today.

Protection through nature
Protection through nature. The mangrove seedlings (pictured) are part of a bigger reforestation plan that includes bamboo and other plants.

Looking ahead

Arakan is one of the many communities within the Coral Triangle that are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Despite agreements made at COP21, we can only expect the world to get warmer and sea levels to increase in the near future. The best case scenario would lead to us seeing around half a meter of sea level rise by 2100.

So what’s on the agenda for Arakan in 2016?

Risk reduction
PMI and local officials display their work. A completed risk reduction map of Arakan helps plan for the future

They are going to look for a potential organic landfill site, rehabilitate their mangrove forests, and revitalize their ailing seaweed industry. Plans also include a new healthcare center to cut down on the two hour ride to the nearest hospital.

The path to success has not been perfect but support from some groups both in Arakan and district government level have shown that they are willing to protect their community against the effects of climate change, and variability.

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Written by Panji Brotoisworo with inputs from Dr. Rosa Perez, Regional Climate Change Specialist  of the Coral Triangle Initiative – Southeast Asia (RETA 7813)

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