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The 'mainstreaming' approach to climate change adaptation: insights from Ethiopia's water sector

Working papers

Written by Roger Calow, Naomi Oates

Vulnerability to climate change and other climate hazards is largely determined by social and economic factors such as income, access to education and healthcare, and the availability of economic opportunities. Changes in the Earth’s physical systems are likely to have a major impact on biological and socio-economic systems, and the poorer developing countries are at greatest risk. Adaptation is, therefore, seen as an inevitable and necessary response.

In many cases adaptation implies tackling pre-existing development issues that contribute to vulnerability. At the same time, long-term climate change is likely to compound existing vulnerabilities to both climatic and socio-economic stresses, contributing to poverty, undermining economic growth and posing a significant challenge to the sustained achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). It is argued, therefore, that climate change adaptation should be integrated with the sustainable development agenda.

‘Mainstreaming’ is one development-orientated approach to climate change adaptation. It has become increasingly popular in international donor circles over the past five to ten years and is being adopted by developing country governments for long-term strategic planning. In many developing countries, however, the process of mainstreaming is in its earliest stages and there is very little accepted doctrine on how the process should occur.

This Background Note uses Ethiopia and its water sector – including both water supply and water management – as a case study to highlight issues associated with ‘mainstreaming adaptation’ in practice. It is based on the MSc dissertation of author Naomi Oates (Oates, 2010) drawing on primary evidence gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, including interviews with stakeholders in government, non-governmental organisations and donor organisations.

Naomi Oates, Declan Conway and Roger Calow