Participatory Vulnerability Assessments Help Build Community Adaptive Capacity

By Regina P. Junio

The Philippines is considered one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world with an average of 20 tropical cyclones hitting every year[1]. The country is shown to be vulnerable to tropical storms such as Typhoon Haiyan, and also to events like the El Niño Southern Oscillation. Although the climate change impacts of such events are geography-specific, the most vulnerable are the people who come from countries already struggling with issues such as poverty, inequality, poor health/nutrition, and environmental degradation. These individuals have little to no capacity to cope with and adapt to the adverse effects of climate change[2].

As a party to the United Nations Forum on Climate Change, the Philippine Government passed RA 9729, the Climate Change Act of 2009. The act aims to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, ensure that food production is not threatened, and enable economic development to proceed. The Climate Change Commission, created to oversee the implementation of RA 9729, is mandated to ensure that climate change adaptation is mainstreamed, in synergy with disaster risk reduction and risk management, into the national, sectoral, and local development plans and programs. Although there are some global and country-specific data and projections on the possible impacts of climate change, the Philippines has very limited community-level vulnerability assessments and scaled-down information available. To effectively perform this mandate, conducting a comprehensive vulnerability assessment of the Philippines is essential.

Through the support from the Ateneo de Zamboanga University’s Faculty Research Program, I worked with the local government of Barangay Limpapa to assess climate change vulnerability and adaptive capacity using a participatory community-based approach adopted from the Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis framework developed by CARE in 2009. Barangay Limpapa is located on the west coast of Zamboanga City. It is a multi-cultural community with more than five thousand residents, the majority of which are indigenous peoples known as Subanons. Like most barangays in the Philippines, transparency and level of participation of residents in local government processes is weak. Even with their experience of disasters in the past, the community remains ill-prepared, and climate change adaptation and resilience building is far from being one of the local government’s priorities.

The community participating in the seasonal calendaring workshop. Copyright Regina P. Junio

The community participating in the seasonal calendaring workshop. Copyright Regina P. Junio

Representatives from all sectors including community zonal leaders, heads of major livelihood organizations, vulnerable sectors, and the local government unit officials participated in the different workshops where they were able to produce their community hazards map, historical timeline, seasonal calendar and their Barangay Vulnerability Matrix. Representatives from service-providing institutions like schools, health care facilities, and non-government organizations were also invited. During the hazards mapping workshop, the community also discussed the coping and adaptation strategies they practiced to secure their livelihoods, conserve ecosystem biodiversity, and prevent disaster. From the results of the workshops conducted, the community has identified storm surges, drought, floods, and receding shoreline as among the climate-related hazards they are most vulnerable to.

So what have we learned from using the participatory community-based approach in assessing climate change vulnerability and adaptive capacity following the example of Barangay Limpapa?

The community knows best

Community-based participatory data gathering and information analysis gave the community an opportunity to link local knowledge and practices with available scientific information on climate change. The approach raised the community’s awareness and appreciation of climate change issues, and it also provided the necessary community-based, scaled-down information that local government units (and their development partner institutions) needed to better understand the community’s current vulnerability, the underlying causes of that vulnerability, and the future impacts of climate change.

Information strengthens participation

The increased appreciation of community climate change issues compelled community members to be more engaged in local governance processes. After their participation in the vulnerability assessment process, most participants volunteered to get actively involved in the community climate change adaptation and mitigation planning and the mainstreaming of this plan into the community’s Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan. This made community policy planning more inclusive, community-informed, and rights-based. More importantly, the process allowed members of the community to learn more about essential government processes and has made the local government unit more transparent in the use of the community funds and other resources.

Engage to adapt

The vulnerability assessment has not only provided the community with greater understanding of climate change issues, it has also provided an opportunity to reflect and appreciate their strengths, weaknesses, and capacity to adapt. Members of the community did not stop at policy formulation; they committed further by being part of the different committees to implement the community’s Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Plan.


The participatory community-based climate change vulnerability and adaptive capacity assessment was found to be tedious and time-consuming for local government units. Since a lot of people are involved, the process may also put some strain on the already limited local government funding. However, both the local government officials and I have found the whole process invaluable at getting the community more involved in local government processes, improving community ownership of local government plans, and ensuring active involvement in implementing community plans and encouraging better compliance to community disaster risk reduction policies. The community-based vulnerability and adaptive capacity assessment was also found to be effective in providing the much needed scaled-down information necessary to effectively integrate climate change adaptation and mitigation in the Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction and Management planning.                                                                                                            

[i]   Bildan, L. (2003). Disaster management in Southeast Asia: An overview. Asian Disaster Preparedness Center. Bangkok, Thailand.

[ii]  Klein, R. Siri, J. T., Eriksen, E. H., Næss, L. O., Hammill, A., Tanner, T. M., Robledo, C., & O’Brien, K. L. (2007).

Portfolio screening to support the mainstreaming of adaptation to climate change into development assistance. Climatic Change, 84(1), 23–44.

Further References

Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis Handbook (CARE) (1st ed.). 2009.

Fortes, J. (2006). Report on survey results. Workshop on Financial Strategies Managing Economic Impact of Natural Disaster at the Macro-Meso-, Micro-Level. Manila, Philippines.