Climate change and the environmental determinants of violence and mental distress in fragile contexts: Ethiopia, Myanmar and Nepal

Lead Research Organisation: University of Portsmouth
Department Name: Sch of Area Stud, Hist, Politics & Lit


Conflicts and environmental disasters alike cause huge disruption to daily life particularly in contexts that are already fragile. However, understanding how different people experience the related disruption is not well known. We can assume that the intense insecurity caused by drought and flooding will trigger significant mental distress and trauma however understanding the specific behavioural-emotional responses as a consequence are not well documented. The lack of understanding means that the humanitarian and development sectors tend not to incorporate emotional wellbeing into their programming. We will explore and argue that in not doing so key stakeholders miss the opportunity to tailor their activities in a way that could in fact bolster the emotional resilience of men and women and thereby make them more able to cope with and move through periods of intense insecurity.

The project will therefore build on previous projects. First; 'Water-security in Ethiopia and the Emotional response of Pastoralists (WEEP)'. Pastoralist are farmers who raise livestock and move their herds in search of fresh pasture and water supplies. In Ethiopia there are around 12 million of them and they are acutely vulnerable to extreme poverty made worse by an ever changing climate, specifically water shortage, which in turn triggers conflict between pastoralists and land users. This situation has been intensified by a government policy to push arable farming that is water dependent thereby depleting further the resource available to pastoralists. The situation is predicted to get worse, the project therefore wanted to capture the emotional and wellbeing impact the situation was having on this group with the view to influencing water policy and practice in Ethiopia in the first instance, and then more widely to see indicators relating to wellbeing included in standard monitoring and evaluation tools used by implementing agencies. The project has had success in evidencing the importance of including well-being indicators in monitoring, evaluation and learning approaches which are now used by the project's Co-Investigator IRC Ethiopia.

The second project; 'Narratives of violence: the impact of internal displacement on violence against women in Nepal and Myanmar' focused on two contexts, Myanmar and Nepal that are both in transition having recently emerged from long-term civil conflicts which impacted on the lives of women in many ways. Both countries have also suffered from the consequences of natural disasters including flooding. As a consequence internal displacement regularly occurs. The project sought to understand better how this displacement impacts on the lives of women and in particular to see if an increase in forms of violence against them could be evidenced. The project was able to capture shocking data that clearly showed that women suffer intense physical insecurity following flood related displacement and furthermore it is not adequately responded to in current humanitarian and development responses. The project has generated a series of learning briefs which has driven impact in particular at the level of local women's organisations in both countries who have been able to use the data to argue for more resourcing to support women at times of displacement.

The new combined project will drive forward the impact already achieved by offering more data evidencing how disasters triggered by drought or flood impact emotionally on men and women. A reanalysis of all data sets through a gendered and wellbeing lens will mean a much more nuanced picture will emerge of how different groups experience insecurities and the level of mental resilience they have during and in the aftermath. In turn this will feed into a new framework to direct key stakeholders more holistically to include emotional responses as part of their work.

Planned Impact

The impact strategy for this project will combine the slightly different approaches adopted by each project in phase one. The Water Security in Ethiopia project included as a co-Investigator Abinet Kebede who was able to lead IRC Ethiopia in the uptake of the findings. As such the impact from that project successfully included the creation of a specific monitoring indicators for inclusion in all relevant interventions. This second project will see this indicator developed further and become a much bigger framework that not only supports the monitoring of impact but helps to ensure that programming is holistic and able to respond emotionally and practically during times of water shortage or flood. IRC also have offices in Myanmar and Nepal and this means that the impact of phase one and two can now achieve reach beyond Ethiopia. As the roles and responsibilities outline, IRC Ethiopia will have a key role in facilitating and coordinating a pool of non academic stakeholders who we hope will trial the framework during the yearly water related crises falling within the project lifetime.

The second dimension of the impact strategy is taken and adapted from the second project 'Narratives of Violence'. It involves working with a research uptake specialist and a development communications company. The uptake approach will begin with a clear communication strategy that from the start will draw out the combined lessons from the first projects and reproduce them in various ways including through illustration, audio and visual art. The stories from the first projects will thereby be told in engaging and thought provoking ways. It will be trialled through our stakeholder champion group in the first instance and then, under their advice, beyond. Online posting of podcasts and mini documentaries through YouTube and our project's three websites (one combined new site and two original project sites) will help us to reach wider audiences as well as to target press and media opportunities.

As stated in the academic beneficiary section, the development of online modules based on the research findings from Narratives of Violence has been an ongoing output that has been well received by the University of Kathmandu. The development of more mini open access courses will be a key impact activity from the combined follow on project. The uptake specialist, who has expertise in the design of online materials and open access in both South Asia and Africa, will work with the international Co-Is to identify key institutions and opportunities in Ethiopia and Myanmar. He will seek to engage key actors to take up and trial the modules emerging from the first and second projects. These modules will also be made available to non academic organisations and to our stakeholder champions. The modules will be designed for inclusion either as part of an UG programme or as training to sensitise actors on both Violence against Women and Girls and the emotional dimension/responses to water disasters.

Securing more resources for research into the area of emotional wellbeing responses to climate disasters in fragile contexts will be a key top level goal of the research. Evidencing both what we know, arguing that there is a need to know more and why will be a focus for the follow on project. Feeding the evidence into the planning of new applied research agendas will be key here. Engaging with key DFID social development advisors, both in-country and in the UK, will form part of the impact strategy.


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Description This project brought together the work of two previous projects funded under the same call. New data collection was not to be undertaken instead we pooled previous data and reanalysed together. We identified a clear gap in the context of humanitarian responses to the needs of displaced communities in that mental distress was not an embedded. We were able to identify a gendered difference in how displaced men and women experience mental trauma triggered by fragility and vulerabilities. We have moved forward in developing a new theoretical approach that incorporates a contextual approach to mental well-being during climatic displacement. This will support a more holistic and gendered response to climate displacement.
Exploitation Route We have developed a new holistic and gendered approach to responding to the needs of displaced communities.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy


Description The findings from this project have been used to support non-academic stakeholders in leveraging funding to combat the impact of both climate change and GBV. For example the Social economic and gender rsource insitute Myanmar are using the findings to help support their assessment of the current context in Myanmar. There work is communitcated through the gender resource hub at AIT in Thailand.
Sector Education,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Economic

Policy & public services