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Study Session 12  Resilience and Coping Strategies


People, communities and society are vulnerable to harm arising from a range of sources. Extreme weather events and climate change add to the challenges of rapid urbanisation, population growth and environmental degradation. In order to cope with these problems, people, communities and society need to be resilient; that is, to be able to recover from such shocks and stresses, and have coping strategies to deal with them.

In this study session, you will be looking at Ethiopia’s approaches to climate change resilience. You will learn about some particular features of resilience in the water sector, as well as Ethiopia’s strategic response to climate change. You will also find out about resilience in urban areas and early warning systems that provide information to help us respond to hazards.

Learning Outcomes for Study Session 12

When you have studied this session, you should be able to:

12.1 Define and use correctly all of the key words printed in bold. (SAQs 12.1, 12.3 and 12.5)

12.2 Describe how resilience in the water sector can be improved. (SAQ 12.2)

12.3 Explain how Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy can contribute to the adaption to and mitigation of climate change. (SAQ 12.3)

12.4 Describe the key principles for urban resilience to climate change (SAQ 12.4)

12.5 Explain the importance of preparedness and early warning systems. (SAQ 12.5)

12.1  What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability of an individual, household, community, society or system to withstand, cope with and quickly recover from shocks and stresses. Shocks and stresses might include drought, floods and other natural hazards, as well as long-term changes in the climate and environmental degradation. They can result in shortage of resources and failed infrastructure and other situations that have the capacity to cause harm.

Understanding the concept of resilience is useful in addressing climate risk and unexpected events. Responses to climate change largely fall into two categories: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation involves trying to reduce the causes of climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions and protecting forests and wetlands which act as carbon sinks. Thus, mitigation strategies aim to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases (IPCC, 2001). In contrast, climate change adaptation involves addressing the effects of climate change by making communities more resilient. It involves adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic effects in order to moderate the harm they may cause (IPCC, 2007b). Plans for improving climate change resilience should include adaptation measures, mitigation actions and disaster risk reduction.

  • Choose a place you know or have read about that is threatened by climate change. This could be a small village, a town or a particular region of Ethiopia.

    • What is the name of your place and where is it located?
    • In what ways is it threatened?
    • In what ways can it be made resilient?
  • You will have your own answer to these questions but in answering them you need to identify the threats to your place, and then consider what can be done to protect it. You might consider what local people could do, as well as what the government or others could do. Possibilities may have been extreme, like relocating people to safer areas; or more manageable such as improving people’s education about the risk and improving preparation for emergencies.

Individuals and communities with low resilience are vulnerable to shocks and stresses and have little ability to recover. Vulnerability means the degree to which individuals, communities or systems are susceptible and less able to cope with harm (IPCC, 2007b). On a wider level, you could think of resilience as the capability of the system or country to manage risks and reduce the occurrence of hazards and to adapt to change over the long term. The ability of a system to adapt to climate change and cope with its consequences is called the adaptive capacity of the system.

12.2  Resilience in the water sector

In Study Sessions 1 and 4 you read about the limited availability of water in terms of both quantity and quality. By 2025, half of the world’s population will live in water-stressed river basins (World Wildlife Fund, 2015). You have also read about population growth, urbanisation, changing land use and the increasing demand for water for domestic, industrial and agricultural purposes. Climate change will aggravate these growing human pressures on water systems.

12.2.1  Adaptation measures

Improving resilience in the water sector means developing the adaptive capacity of the system. Countries need to adopt appropriate adaptation measures in their water supply sector that will reduce wastage, promote wise use of fresh water and improve water management practices. These adaptation measures include:

  • Efficient use of water resources: ensure effective use and fair sharing of existing resources; develop new water sources and reservoirs; promote efficient use of water by consumers through education and tariff structures; develop water reuse and recycling; develop rainwater harvesting schemes.
  • Leakage reduction: ensure that equipment and fittings of the water supply system are properly maintained to reduce the frequency of leakage, and that they are repaired promptly.
  • Testing existing technologies for resilience: water and sanitation services should be robust enough to ensure that water quality, water quantity and sanitation systems can be maintained.
  • Protecting ecosystem resilience: the impacts of natural disasters and climate change should be monitored to maintain the resilience of water and wetland ecosystems. Ecosystem resilience means that the effects of events like fires or drought do not make fundamental long-lasting changes to biodiversity within the ecosystem.
  • Flexible management approaches: decision makers need to be able to adapt to the full range of climate scenarios and the demands they generate.

Following these principles for adaptation will help to ensure that increasing problems of water stress can be managed appropriately and that the water sector improves its resilience to future change. Many of these measures are about the sustainable use of water and require changes to the way water resources are managed. We will now look at three examples of water management practices that will help improve resilience: water conservation, water reuse and catchment management.

12.2.2  Water conservation

Water conservation covers a broad range of activities from using less water at home to national policies to protect freshwater ecosystems. Its purpose is to manage water sustainably by using less or using it more efficiently so that present and future needs of people and the environment can be met.

Freshwater conservation efforts are designed to protect and restore biodiversity in water and wetland ecosystems and the ecosystem services they provide. Ecosystem services are the benefits that people obtain from these systems, such as the provision of drinking water and food. Freshwater ecosystems support 12% of known species, while they account for only 1% of the Earth’s surface (Gleick, 2012). They include rivers, ponds, lakes, marshes, bogs and swamps, but they are becoming increasingly rare. Wetlands are also important carbon sinks but they are often drained to support agriculture or for human settlement.

An example of water conservation in agriculture is the use of drip-feed irrigation, which provides water directly to the soil near the roots of the growing crops (Figure 12.1). It requires a great deal less water than conventional methods of flood or spray irrigation in which much of the water is lost by evaporation. By using less water, the volume taken from rivers is reduced which helps to maintain the river ecosystem.

Figure 12.1  Drip-feed irrigation system reduces water loss by evaporation.

Other examples of water conservation from agriculture include changing the variety of crop that is grown to those that require less water and are more drought-resistant. Changing techniques for planting can also reduce water use, for example, creating a small hollow around the stem of a plant can ensure that water seeps into the ground close to the roots rather than running off over the surface.

12.2.3  Recycling water

Wastewater recycling will become an increasingly important source of new water resources. It means finding ways to use water more than once. Recycled water can be used to recharge groundwater aquifers, supply industrial processes, irrigate certain crops and supplement domestic supplies. Recycling helps provide usable water and reduces pollution of existing supplies. Many industrial and domestic processes do not require water of drinking standard. For example, water for flushing toilets does not need to be of the same quality as drinking water. There has been a significant increase in the availability and use of treated wastewater for a wide range of applications in different parts of the world and this is an area that is likely to grow.

12.2.4  Catchment management

In the past, responsibility for management of water resources has often been divided among several different agencies or administrative departments. For example, responsibility for providing water supply for domestic users would be entirely separate from water for irrigation, even though they would both be using the same resource. This lack of coordination creates problems because it does not recognise the processes and connections of the water cycle or the links between the various parts of the water resource system.

To overcome this problem, the natural boundaries of the water catchment should be recognised. The catchment area, also known as the watershed, of a river is the total area of surrounding land that slopes towards the river. Rainwater that falls in a catchment flows into the river and is therefore affected by the type of land over which it flows. Water can be contaminated by pollution sources in the catchment even though they may be some distance away. Adopting an integrated catchment management approachmeans that these connections are take into account. Integrated catchment management involves both water use and land use within the catchment area. It recognises the connections between water quality and water quantity and those between surface water and groundwater. Importantly, the needs of the environment are also taken into account. This integrated approach can improve resilience because understanding the connections within a system helps managers to predict impacts and identify strategies for coping with change.

12.3  Response to climate change in Ethiopia

  • Have you experienced periods of drought or cuts in water supply? How did you cope?

  • Most of us in Ethiopia have experienced drought and cuts to supply. While access to drinking water is the main concern, we quickly realise how dependent we are on water for many other things that make life comfortable. Bottled water and tankers that transport water should ensure we have water to drink, but we quickly adjust to washing less frequently, cooking less and eating more raw food. In other words, we adapt and cope.

For reasons you have read about in previous study sessions, climate change is a growing concern for the Ethiopian government. At the heart of Ethiopia’s climate change initiatives is the Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy.

12.3.1 Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy

Awareness of climate change impacts has intensified in recent years. The Ethiopian government has decided to respond in a way that not only seeks to mitigate and adapt to climate change, but also to use this as an opportunity to switch to a new development model that will be sustainable. To this end, the government has initiated the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy (FDRE, 2011). This aims to protect the country from the adverse effects of climate change and to build a green economy that will help realise Ethiopia’s ambition to reach middle-income status before 2025. The term green economy is defined as a sustainable economy and society with zero carbon emissions where all energy is derived from renewable resources which are naturally replenished. In contrast, a black energy economy is based on carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

Ethiopia’s CRGE strategy identifies more than 60 initiatives to limit greenhouse gas emissions while still bringing economic development. The aim is for emissions in the year 2030 to be roughly the same as they were in 2011 when the strategy was published. This is less than half the level estimated under a conventional development path.

The CRGE plan is based on four pillars (FDRE, 2011):

  1. Agriculture: improving crop and livestock production practices for higher food security and farmer income while reducing emissions.
  2. Forestry: protecting and re-establishing forests for their economic and ecosystem services, including as carbon stocks.
  3. Power: expanding electricity generation from renewable sources of energy for domestic and regional markets.
  4. Transport, industrial sector and buildings: leapfrogging to modern and energy-efficient technologies in transport, industrial sectors and buildings. (Leapfrogging means jumping ahead without going through a slow development process.)

The required budget for the CRGE is US$150 billion for 20 years, most of which is expected to come from external sources (Gebremedhin and Mengistu, 2014). Four key initiatives have been identified for fast-track implementation:

  1. Exploiting Ethiopia’s vast hydropower potential.
  2. Large-scale promotion of advanced rural cooking stoves.
  3. Efficiency improvements in livestock rearing.
  4. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Taking each of these in turn, the country’s vast hydroelectric power potential through its 12 river basins is being exploited by building large dams such as the three Gilgel Gibe dams and the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (Figure 12.2), which is expected to be Africa’s largest dam. These provide renewable energy but, internationally, these projects are contested because of the potential impact they could have downstream in terms of reducing supply, particularly in Egypt (BBC, 2014).

Figure 12.2  The construction site for the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in northern Ethiopia. When completed, the reservoir will cover an area of 1800 km2.

Secondly, the government favours the large-scale promotion of advanced rural cooking stoves because they are fuel efficient (Figure 12.3). Traditionally, most rural households burn wood and charcoal on open fires to cook, causing indoor and outdoor air pollution. The new stoves use less fuel, are safer and produce less smoke which brings health benefits.

Figure 12.3  An Ethiopian family enjoys a meal cooked on an advanced cooking stove.

Thirdly, efficiency improvements in the rearing of livestock can bring economic benefits. Ethiopia has more cattle than any other African country and is the eighth-largest producer of livestock in the world (CNFA, 2015). Yet in 2011 Ethiopia accounted for less than 1% of total global meat exports, so this is clearly an area of potential growth.

Fourthly, the government is prioritising the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. This initiative aims to lower the emission of greenhouse gases as a result of changing land use. The country’s diverse landscapes provide food, water, firewood, construction materials and medicines, and if well managed can help reduce the risk of flooding, drought and famine. While climate change has increased the frequency of these risks, effective land use management can contribute to resilience against such risks, as well as improve biodiversity and carbon stocks in the soil and vegetation (World Bank, 2014). The pressures on land use are due to the expansion of subsistence agriculture and livestock grazing in fragile areas, leading to land and water degradation. But this is now changing, with large-scale landscape restoration underway in Tigray, for example (World Bank, 2014).

The CRGE strategy demonstrates Ethiopia’s commitment to responding to climate change. The government is developing national frameworks for adaptation and establishing the institutional structures to manage climate change such as the country’s Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) which coordinates and makes climate change policy an integral part of development initiatives.

12.4  Resilience in urban areas

Although Ethiopia is currently one of the least urbanised countries in the world, this is likely to change over the next couple of decades.

  • Do you recall, from Study Session 5, what the percentage urban growth rate is in Ethiopia? How does this compare with other countries in Africa?

  • Ethiopia’s urban growth rate is more than 4% per year, which is one of the highest in Africa.

The increasing urban population puts added pressure on housing, transport, water supply and other systems and services. Urban resilience is when the systems and services of the town or city survive shocks and stresses, the people and organisations are able to accommodate these stresses into their day-to-day decisions, and the city’s institutional structures continue to function (Asian Development Bank, 2014). There is no single action that will make a city resilient to climate change. Resilience is developed through many actions, which build upon each other and where the focus is on preparation for disaster rather than response to it. This means that plans for resilience should be included as part of any urban development plan. The Asian Development Bank (2014) identifies the following guiding principles for urban resilience:

  1. Combine ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ measures in the plan: this highlights that the actions and behaviours (soft measures) of individuals, communities and institutions are as critical to city resilience as protecting physical structures such as buildings and transport networks (hard measures). Resilience needs regulations, information systems and social networks.
  2. Engage multiple stakeholders: cities are diverse and complex, so engaging businesses, civil society and government is necessary to build resilience and to form city-wide plans of preparedness.
  3. Enlist different geographic and governance scales: cities have links with rural areas, internationally, and with each other. These links can be vital for building resilience, providing relief and sharing information about best practice.
  4. Look to the future: planning processes have to address current issues but should also consider possible future situations, even though they may be uncertain.
  5. Use local expertise: people with local knowledge can exchange information with external experts to build long-term adaptive capacity.
  6. Build leadership: effective resilience needs strong leadership and accountability.
  7. Focus on vulnerable communities: meaningful urban resilience must meet the needs of poor and vulnerable households who lack the resources available to others.

Building communication networks and sharing best practice is an important aspect of these principles. An example in Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Cities Association (ECA), which was launched in 2009 and has a membership of 28 cities. The ECA provides a platform for cities to learn from each other (Cities Alliance, 2014). The ECA also works with residents and other stakeholders, including businesses, to plan urban development more effectively. The idea is that the network enables cities to implement reforms faster and more efficiently because of the shared learning.

12.5  Early warning systems

An important element of resilience is having contingency plans that can be put into action if disaster strikes. These are plans that provide answers to such questions as ‘what if the town floods?’ or ‘what if there’s an earthquake?’ To be effective these plans need an early warning system to alert people of impending danger to trigger avoidance actions and reduce risk. Early warning systems refer to a set of capacities needed to generate and disseminate timely and meaningful warning information to enable individuals, communities and organisations threatened by a hazard to prepare and to act appropriately and in sufficient time to reduce the possibility of harm or loss (UNISDR, 2009). Or, to put it more simply, early warning systems are designed to let people know when something bad is going to happen so they can prepare themselves and try to avoid harm. An early warning system can bring safety, security and peace of mind.

Early warning systems make contingency planning and evacuation procedures more precise and help put people and their property and livelihoods out of harm’s way. In Ethiopia there is a high degree of vulnerability to natural and climate hazards, particularly among the poorest households and those located in remote areas. Communication to these and other people through an early warning system can help reduce disaster risk by improving preparedness and giving greater protection to people and their livelihoods. Figure 12.4 demonstrates the essential elements of an early warning system.

Figure 12.4 The elements of an early warning system.

An early warning system works best as part of an integrated and unified risk management framework. The government launched its National Policy and Strategy on Disaster Risk Management in July 2013. The main objective of the Policy is ‘to reduce disaster risks and potential damage caused by a disaster through establishing a comprehensive and coordinated disaster risk management system in the context of sustainable development’ (FDRE, 2013). Previous policies had focused on drought and are believed to have prevented severe drought disasters in 2002 and 2010. However, the government now acknowledges the risk of disasters other than drought, such as flood, human disease epidemics, livestock disease outbreaks, crop pests, and forest and bush fires. The most notable features of this new strategy have been the movement away from concentrating on drought and relief assistance to a more proactive strategy that seeks to monitor, prepare and warn people of risks both in the urban and rural areas, to decentralise the disaster risk management system and incorporate the strategy into development policies (FDRE, 2013).

With this and other policies Ethiopia is moving forward with plans to build adaptive capacity and improve resilience to climate change. We conclude this study session with a comment on the ultimate goal for resilience strategies. Whereas early notions of resilience spoke of systems returning to a stable and pre-existing state, there is now an acceptance that this is rarely possible, and perhaps not even desirable. Instead, more recent ideas have emphasised the system’s capacity to reorganise, change and adapt to threats. This is because episodes of stress can be recurrent events, and returning to the situation that existed before the disturbance may simply be a return to vulnerability. Change, however, can build greater resilience in order to be less reactive and more proactive.

Summary of Study Session 12

In Study Session 12, you have learned that:

  1. Resilience is the ability of an individual, a household, community, or society to withstand, cope with and quickly recover from shocks and stresses such as drought, floods or natural disasters.
  2. Climate change resilience should comprise climate change adaptation, mitigation actions and disaster risk reduction.
  3. Adaptation for resilience in the water sector involves efficient use of water, reducing leakage, robust systems, ecosystem resilience and flexible management.
  4. Water conservation, recycling of water and integrated catchment management are examples of possible improvements in water resource management.
  5. The Ethiopian government has initiated the Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy to protect the country from the adverse effects of climate change and to build a green economy that will help realise its ambition of reaching middle-income status by 2025.
  6. Increasing urban populations make urban resilience a high priority. Developing urban resilience includes recognising the importance of soft and hard systems, engaging all stakeholders, making links with others, looking to the future, using local knowledge, building leadership and focusing on vulnerable people.
  7. Early warning systems are designed to warn people of possible harm. They require risks to be monitored and analysed so they can be communicated to people and responses can be prepared.

Self-Assessment Questions (SAQs) for Study Session 12

Now that you have completed this study session, you can assess how well you have achieved its Learning Outcomes by answering these questions.

SAQ 12.1 (tests Learning Outcome 12.1)

Match the following words to their correct definitions.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. resilience

  2. integrated catchment management

  3. vulnerability

  4. green economy

  5. adaptive capacity

  6. ecosystem services

  7. black energy economy

  8. early warning system

  • a.economic system based on carbon-intensive fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum

  • b.ability of a system to adapt to climate change and cope with its consequences

  • c.mechanisms to produce timely and meaningful information about a forthcoming emergency

  • and water management approach that takes account of the links between land use and water resources

  • e.economy with zero carbon emissions and all energy derived from renewable resources.

  • f.ability to withstand, cope with and quickly recover from shocks and stresses

  • g.susceptibility to the effects of harm

  • h.benefits and essentials for living that people get from natural environmental processes

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = f
  • 2 = d
  • 3 = g
  • 4 = e
  • 5 = b
  • 6 = h
  • 7 = a
  • 8 = c

SAQ 12.2 (tests Learning Outcome 12.2)

Resilience to the uncertainties of climate change in the water sector depends on the sustainable use of water. Give four examples of methods for improving efficiency in water use, choosing one example from each of the following: agriculture, domestic supply, industrial use and water management.


Examples of methods for improving efficiency of water use you may have chosen include:

  • From agriculture: drip-feed irrigation; growing drought-resistant crops.
  • From domestic supply: prompt repair of water pipes to reduce leakage; using less water at home; using rainwater where appropriate.
  • From industry: reusing water in manufacturing processes where appropriate.
  • From water management: adopting more flexible approaches; integrated catchment management.

SAQ 12.3 (tests Learning Outcomes 12.1 and 12.3)

Consider the four pillars of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy strategy and identify whether they are examples of climate change mitigation or adaptation or both.


  1. Agriculture: Both. Changing farming practices is an adaptation to climate change but in the process, emissions will be cut which is climate change mitigation.
  2. Forestry: Mitigation. Protecting forests and planting new ones is a way of enhancing carbon sinks which is part of mitigation.
  3. Power: Mitigation. Using renewable energy reduces emissions of greenhouse gases.
  4. Transport, industrial sector and buildings: Mitigation. Adopting new technologies in transport, industry and buildings will improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions.

SAQ 12.4 (tests Learning Outcome 12.4)

Which of the following statements is false? Explain why it is incorrect.

  • A.Urban resilience plans should prioritise poor and vulnerable people who are less able to protect themselves.
  • B.Cities should share information about their experiences of climate change so they can learn from each other.
  • C.The best people to prepare urban resilience plans are international experts in climate change because they can accurately predict future changes in weather patterns.


C is false. International experts in climate change may have a part to play in developing resilience plans but local people need to be involved in the process. They have essential knowledge and experience of the particular situation in the location where they live. It is also not necessarily true that the international experts can accurately predict the future. There is always some degree of uncertainty in climate change predictions.

SAQ 12.5 (tests Learning Outcomes 12.1 and 12.5)

What are the essential elements of an effective early warning system?


The essential elements of an effective early warning system are:

  • Risk analysis and knowledge: possible hazards and risks need to be understood.
  • Risk monitoring and warning services: there need to be systems in place to monitor changing situations and raise the alarm if needed.
  • Risk dissemination and communication: news of impending danger needs to be spread quickly and efficiently to everyone who may be affected.
  • Response capability: contingency plans should be prepared and resources available so that, when needed, the appropriate response can be made.