How individuals and communities respond to major climate events

June 20th, 2009 - 3:25 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 20 (ANI): In a new study, a scientist and her team have explored various means by which individuals and communities are responding to weather and climate change.

The scientist in question is Dr. Sara Alexander, an applied social anthropologist at Baylor University in the US.

Alexander and her team studied different households in several large and small coastal communities in Belize.

They identified vulnerable households in these tourism-dependent communities and examined how they adapted and coped with major climate events and shocks like hurricanes and floods.

The Baylor researchers also measured each household’s long-term resilience, an area that has not been extensively researched, and identified different behaviors and strategies that lead some families to cope better and emerge stronger after a weather-related event.

“Overall, we found vulnerable households also responded to weather-related events, as did more secure households, they just did it in different ways,” said Alexander.

Alexander said that over the last 150 years, data shows surface temperatures have increased and the associated impacts on biological and physical systems have become more evident.

Some of the more notable changes that have gradually occurred are sea level rise, shifts in climatic zones, changes in precipitation patterns and increases in frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events like droughts, floods and storms.

Alexander and her team developed a resilience-measuring index for human responses that examined certain long-term security indicators, including economic stability, health, education, social networks, environment and nutrition.

The researchers then tracked those indicators as different weather-related events naturally occur.

The results show that perception about climate change and weather patterns played a key role in determining whether a household prepares adequately for a harsh weather event.

It showed that vulnerable and more secure households differ in coping strategies when dealing with weather-related events.

Those households that are considered vulnerable and not materialistic more often turn to their family, friends and faith for emotional support, but not to financially-based responses.

Those households who have higher levels of security are more likely to use their savings or sell their assets to engage in a financially based response by repairing and rebuilding, many times finding emotional support through this work.

Other findings include that crime and self-reported alcohol and drug abuse increased in the coastal communities after major weather events like Hurricane Dean in 2007 and Tropical Storm Arthur in 2008. (ANI)

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