Dryland vulnerability: typical patterns and dynamics in support of vulnerability reduction efforts

Submitted by Diana Sietz | published 5th Jul 2013 | last updated 27th Nov 2014
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The pronounced constraints on ecosystem functioning and human livelihoods in drylands are frequently exacerbated by natural and socio-economic stresses, including weather extremes and inequitable trade conditions. Therefore, a better understanding of the relation between these stresses and the socio-ecological systems is important for advancing dryland development.

The concept of vulnerability as applied in this dissertation describes this relation as encompassing the exposure to climate, market and other stresses as well as the sensitivity of the systems to these stresses and their capacity to adapt. With regard to the interest in improving environmental and living conditions in drylands in South America, this dissertation aims at a meaningful generalisation of heterogeneous vulnerability situations. A pattern recognition approach based on clustering revealed typical vulnerability-creating mechanisms at local scales, including the drylands of Peru and Northeast Brazil, and at a global scale. The conditions necessary to identify typical vulnerability patterns were summarised in five methodological steps. They aim to motivate and to facilitate the application of the selected pattern-recognition approach in future vulnerability analyses. The five steps outline the elicitation of relevant cause-effect hypotheses and the quantitative indication of mechanisms as well as an evaluation of robustness, a validation and a ranking of the identified patterns. The precise definition of the hypotheses is essential to appropriately quantify the basic processes as well as to consistently interpret, validate and rank the clusters.

In particular, the five steps reflect scale-dependent opportunities, such as the outcome-oriented aspect of validation in the local study. Overall, the categorisation of a limited number of typical patterns and dynamics presents an efficient approach to improving our understanding of dryland vulnerability. Appropriate decision making for sustainable dryland development through vulnerability reduction can be significantly enhanced by pattern-specific entry points combined with insights into changing hotspots of vulnerability and the transferability of successful adaptation strategies.