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Coping with Multiple Stresses in Rural South Africa

Claire H. Quinn, Leeds University
Gina Ziervogel, Department of Environmental and Geographical Science, University of Cape Town
Anna Taylor, Stockholm Environment Institute
Takeshi Takama, Stockholm Environment Institute
Frank Thomalla, Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University


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In this paper, we aim to investigate how local communities cope with and adapt to multiple stresses in rural semiarid South Africa. In semiarid regions water scarcity is one of a number of stresses that shape livelihood vulnerability. With climate change, it is predicted that rainfall in South Africa will become more uncertain and variable in the future, exposing more people to water insecurity. At the same time, the impacts of disease, a lack of institutional capacity, and limited livelihood opportunities can combine to limit adaptive capacity. Therefore, adaptation to changing climate should not be viewed in isolation but instead in the context of social, economic, and political conditions, all of which shape local community vulnerability and people’s ability to cope with and adapt to change. This study uses a qualitative-quantitative-qualitative framework, including the use of a stated preference survey, to identify the drivers of agroecosystem change, to understand the capacity of households to cope with droughts, and to determine the ability of local institutions to respond to crises. The analysis suggests that the capacity of the agroecosystem to remain productive during droughts is decreasing, individual/household adaptive capacity remains low, and institutional capacity faces considerable barriers that prevent it from supporting households to adapt to multiple stresses. This research adds weight to the claim that vulnerability reflects multiple forces and processes, and that multiple stresses, that are agroecological, socioeconomic, and institutional in nature, need to be examined to understand vulnerability and to prevent maladaptation.

Key words

climate change; food security; multiple stressors; sub-Saharan Africa; vulnerability

Copyright © 2011 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087