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A vulnerability assessment in Siem Reap, Cambodia

The alternation of floods and droughts and the high level of poverty make the residents of Cambodia’s central region particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Siem Reap province, a community-based vulnerability and adaptation assessment used participatory methods to identify specific vulnerabilities and involve beneficiaries from the start.

Cambodia’s climate is characterised by a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November to April. The majority of Cambodians live in the country’s densely-populated central region that is alternately prone to floods and droughts. This topography, along with the high level of poverty, makes the population very vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment formed the start of the German-supported adaptation project

Map of Cambodia

Against this backdrop, Malteser International has been implementing the pilot project “Increasing Resilience to Health Related Impacts of Climate Change in Siem Reap Province” on behalf of German Development Cooperation since November 2014. As an important first step, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH supported Malteser International in conducting a Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment. The purpose of the assessment was to identify the specific vulnerabilities to climate-related health risks in the project region, to assess adaptive capacities of the people in 13 villages in Siem Reap Province, and to ensure that the project supported the most relevant adaptation measures.

In the beginning, Malteser International conducted an extensive desk review on climate change and health in Cambodia, as well as key informant interviews with national and regional experts. The assessment at community level formed the heart of the Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment. As a participatory approach was most appropriate for this purpose, GIZ recommended Malteser International to seek methodological guidance from the CARE handbook Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis, a tool which integrates climate change into a wider participatory vulnerability analysis at community level.

Malteser International conducted focus group discussions in 13 villages. Participants were selected to represent a diverse group with regard to gender, age and socio-economic circumstances. Particular care was taken to ensure that vulnerable groups like female-headed households, elderly and people living with disabilities were included. To make participants feel at ease, focus groups were divided according to gender, and also included separate groups for children. For data collection, participatory tools like the Seasonal Calendar were used. The Seasonal Calendar is a visual method that shows the distribution of seasonally varying phenomena, like the weather, economic activities, or diseases over time. Richard Hocking, the project manager, found that this approach empowered community members to relate their experiences. “The tools made it really easy for participants to share their experiences with the changing climate and the ways they try to cope with the challenges. I had the impression that they really appreciated the fact that we cared about them and asked about their experiences and needs.”

Adaptation options were developed in a consultative process with key stakeholders


The most relevant results were converted into impact chains which depict the observed changes in the climate and ecosystem and their effects on the community, in particular with regard to health. The impact chains were used as a vehicle for discussing the results with key stakeholders from the commune councils and provincial administration and for seeking their input on potential adaptation measures during a results dissemination workshop. “The impact chains were an easy way for the participants to understand the links between climate-related phenomena and the impacts on people, incomes and local health systems,” recalled Richard Hocking. “This allowed us to take it from an abstract notion of ‘climate change’ to actually discussing what that would mean on the ground.”

A lack of water emerged as the key challenge and informed the project design

The results showed that a lack of safe drinking water during both floods and droughts is one of the key climate-related challenges in the communities and makes people vulnerable to water- and food-borne diseases. In response to these results, GIZ and Malteser International jointly decided to adapt the project design and focus their investment in hardware for water storage, rather than latrines. “The assessment was crucial for the effectiveness of the project,” says Richard Hocking. “Without it, we would have found ourselves building pour-flush latrines at the time of the most severe drought in Cambodia’s recent history. Instead of falsely encouraging communities to use the scarce water for toilets, we are now supporting them in collecting and storing safe drinking water. This really helps them to adapt to the climatic changes.”

The assessment sensitised stakeholders at all levels

The German-supported assessment in Cambodia is one of the first documented examples of a community-based Vulnerability and Adaptation Assessment focussing on the health impacts of climate change. The participatory approach ensured that stakeholders from the local to the national level became sensitised to the importance of climate-related health impacts. Moreover, it meant that, from the outset, they were involved in the design of suitable adaptation measures. The adaptation project implemented in Siem Reap as a result of the assessment strengthened community resilience against the health-related impacts of climate change.

Related materials and useful tools

© GIZ/Richard Hocking
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