7. Differential Exposure

Submitted by Michael Rastall | published 9th Aug 2012 | last updated 13th Jan 2020

Different components of the system, whether social groups or economic activities, ecosystems or specific natural resources, are exposed to threats in different ways. Vulnerability is unlikely to be the same for all villagers, even if we consider the ensemble of climate-related threats mentioned in the previous section, namely drought, pest invasions, climate-related diseases, drying water sources, shifting seasons, and winds.

In order to capture differentiated vulnerability, villagers discussed how these threats affected different ‘exposure units’ in the past. ‘Exposure units’ are activities, resources or social groups that are important for the village and are exposed to threats. In this particular analysis, the villagers defined the exposure units.

In order to capture differential exposure in the system, exposure units were analyzed against specific climate-related threats. Table 7 below shows how villagers from Mboy II, Mang and Djalobekoe described the effect of climate-related threats on different social actors, activities and resources. The scales and signs used are qualitative, but they help provide an idea of the level of magnitude should the threat become an impact (i.e. the effect) and the type of this potential impact (i.e. positive or negative).

The table above shows how different exposure units are, or can be, affected differently by specific climate-related threats. It is not possible to use the values in the matrix as absolute numbers and add them up, as they are only indicative of the perception of different village groups and the exposure units chosen were not consistent among all these groups. Instead they give an idea of the climate-related threats that appear to represent a high potential impact and the exposure units that appear to be most vulnerable.

Among the threats listed above, droughts and changing seasons seem to represent the highest potential impact for the villages. The intense drought experienced by the participants in the early 80s severely affected agriculture, damaging production of coffee, cacao, manioc and the gardens. In addition to agriculture, forests were also affected by the severe drought, as it caused as series of fire outbreaks that villagers were not used to deal with. Fires in the forests damaged their cacao plantations, as these are often times located in the secondary forests.

In terms of social groups, the drought mainly affected children and the elderly people as the latter could not go out during hours of high heat and the former were more prone to diseases such as diarrhoea and measles. In Mang, participants mentioned that the epidemic of measles that followed the drought killed around 400 children in the area over a period of 2 months. While the intense drought of 1982 was an isolated event, villagers continue to face periods of dryness, particularly since 2000. During these periods, water sources dry out and villagers are forced to use water from the river, which results in diarrhoea epidemics among the population, particularly the children.

In addition, changes in the seasons since 2000 seem to be an important factor with negative as well as positive impacts on the system, depending on the exposure unit. According to villagers that participated in the focus group discussions, changes in the weather pattern mainly affect agriculture. While there are some products that have benefited from changes in the weather pattern, such as plantain, manioc, and some NTFPs like Djanssang, Andok and Gnetum, villagers perceive most of the impacts on agriculture as negative. One of the main reasons is because villagers have lost their ability to estimate wet and dry periods, because ‘rain has become erratic’. Not being able to cope with changes in the rain patterns has resulted in problems with pests and weeds, and has disturbed the production cycle of important crops. As a consequence, there is a reduction of both production quantity and quality. Most agricultural products are negatively affected by changes in the season, particularly vegetable gardens due to phytosanitary problems and proliferation of weeds caused by rains during the small dry season, and due to falling flowers and loss of seedlings due to a lack of rain and pockets of dryness in the small rain season. In general, villagers expressed that the second production cycle has become more difficult because it rains during the small dry season and plants in the field do not dry properly. Burning in this period has also become more difficult and it is difficult to know when to prepare the land for seeding. In terms of serious pest invasions, caterpillars infested villages in 1990. Caterpillars mainly affected cacao plantations and vegetable gardens, again causing a negative impact on food security and the local economy.

Results obtained from surveys confirm the focus group discussions on the effects of season shifts and increased climate variability on agriculture. According to the survey results, the main impact of climate-related disturbances is decrease of agricultural production with almost 110 responses indicating this, equivalent to 73% of the total responses for this category. Other important impacts related to agriculture are decrease of income from agricultural production (50%) and problems with storage and drying of products (38%) (see Figure 12).

In general, forests seem to be less affected by changing seasons because of their diversity and resilience to this variability, as indicated by the participants. This appears to benefit wild and domestic animals as well as there are wild plants available for them to eat. Results from the focus group discussion (Table 7) as well as from the surveys (see decrease in forest products 28% in Figure 12) seem to show that NTFPs are somewhat affected by climate-related disturbances, although to less extent than agriculture.

Most of the effects of changing seasons and climatic extremes on people are indirect, although surveyed results show an increase in malaria outbreaks (59% of total responses for the category) that could be considered an important direct impact on human health. In addition, low agricultural production, particularly from vegetable gardens, results in a lack of food for most households, as gardens are used mainly for subsistence. Low cacao production also has negative consequences, because it translates into lower income (see d in Figure x). This in turn affects household economies, which are highly dependent on this product for monetary revenue. Other important indirect social effects are the deterioration of roads (38%) and the loss of housing or other infrastructure in the villages (37%) (see Figure 12). The latter is probably related to the strong winds that destroyed several houses in the villages and damaged infrastructure and production (e.g. cacao and manioc) that was affected by falling trees.  

This narrative helps us to understand that vulnerability cannot be considered as an aggregate in the system, but needs to be explored from different angles in order to understand the nuances of differential exposure. The next section deepens this analysis further while considering not only the vulnerability of different attributes in the system, but also how it changes over time and space.