From 4 to 8 September 2017, IUCN’s Mekong WET initiative conducted ‘vulnerability to disaster risk’ assessments (VDRAs), also known as ‘vulnerability assessments’ (VAs), to analyse the potential impacts of climate change on communities in the Boeung Prek Lapouv (BPL) Protected Landscape in Takeo Province, Cambodia.
The assessments were carried out in collaboration with Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Birdlife International, using a series of tools developed earlier in 2017. These VA tools allow stakeholders to explore the linkages between the ecological vulnerability of wetlands to climate change and the socio-economic vulnerability of the people dependent on them.
First, Mekong WET’s project partners identified key BPL habitats – such as rice paddies, seasonally-flooded grassland, open water and inundated flooded forest – that have been impacted by climate change and extreme weather events. Next, community members listed the 10 species they considered most valuable. Finally, community members mapped their resources, created a historical timeline of natural disasters or notable weather phenomena in the area, identified the impacts of climate change, and noted their current and future coping strategies.
As part of the assessment, storms were identified as annual phenomena with significant impacts on rice yields. Other extreme events like flooding, extreme heat waves, thunderstorms and storm surges have also been occurring more frequently on average in recent years, with varying levels of impact. By far the most devastating weather phenomena in the last decade have been droughts, which caused grassland and flooded forests to wither, drove away birds and killed fish, affected the health of people and livestock, and caused economic hardship for the vast majority of rice farmers in BPL.
As harmful as many of these weather events were, however, community members maintained that anthropogenic disturbances such as land encroachment, shrub burning, agricultural runoff, bird poaching, illegal fishing and several other activities had impacted BPL far more severely. Climate-change related phenomena, anthropogenic on a macro scale, had more of an impact on the livelihoods of the people than on the habitats around them.
In the final step in the VA process, which is was to identify coping strategies, the VA team then led a discussion between the BPL Site Manager and the local community to identify what management practices were already in place, and come to a mutual arrangement regarding management practices in the future.
Some of these pre-existing community measures included efforts to restore Ou Chrov Canal and BPL as a whole, though the wetland’s management is currently largely in the hands of the BPL site manager. The manager regularly leads a ranger team to conduct patrols and raises awareness within the local community on the wise use of the wetland.
In terms of future management practices, the community had many ideas, including main canal restoration to conserve fish species, flooded forest protection and restoration, and forest fire protection, particularly in dry season. Additionally, they suggested discouraging the cutting of giant mimosa (Mimosa pigra) for firewood, as doing so can disturb fish habitat. In order to be able to harvest water lily in the long run, they will also discourage extracting it from the root. Finally, they will no longer use chemicals for catching crabs and will try to limit their use of pesticides for agriculture.
The vulnerability assessment of this site contributes to the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB)-funded Mekong WET: Building Resilience of Wetlands in the Lower Mekong Region through a Ramsar Regional Initiative. Boueng Prek Lapouv is one of ten sites in the Mekong WET project to receive VA training.