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Vulnerability to Weather Disasters: the Choice of Coping Strategies in Rural Uganda

Jennifer F Helgeson, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Geography and Environment; The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment
Simon Dietz, London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Geography and Environment; The Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment
Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler, IIASA - International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-05390-180202

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Abstract

When a natural disaster hits, the affected households try to cope with its impacts. A variety of coping strategies, from reducing current consumption to disposing of productive assets, may be employed. The latter strategies are especially worrisome because they may reduce the capacity of the household to generate income in the future, possibly leading to chronic poverty. We used the results of a household survey in rural Uganda to ask, first, what coping strategies would tend to be employed in the event of a weather disaster, second, given that multiple strategies can be chosen, in what combinations would they tend to be employed, and, third, given that asset-liquidation strategies can be particularly harmful for the future income prospects of households, what determines their uptake? Our survey is one of the largest of its kind, containing over 3000 observations garnered by local workers using smartphone technology. We found that in this rural sample, by far, the most frequently reported choice would be to sell livestock. This is rather striking because asset-based theories would predict more reliance on strategies like eating and spending less today, which avoid disposal of productive assets. It may well be that livestock is held as a form of liquid savings to, among other things, help bounce back from a weather disaster. Although, we did find that other strategies that might undermine future prospects were avoided, notably selling land or the home and disrupting the children’s education. Our econometric analysis revealed a fairly rich set of determinants of different subsets of coping strategies. Perhaps most notably, households with a more educated head are much less likely to choose coping strategies involving taking their own children out of education.

Key words

coping strategies; covariate risk; education; extreme weather; poverty trap; small-scale farming; Uganda; vulnerability
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087