Research Stay from Master Grantee Lisa Eicke – Namibia 2020

Namibia is a semi-dry country that is particularly vulnerable towards climate change. It has been characterized by high variability of rainfall and temperatures leading to persistent droughts and scarcity of water. Through climate change this situation is expected to become more extreme. Windhoek, the capital, has been suffering from intensified droughts over the last ten years leading to severe water shortages. Especially people living in informal settlements do not have the capacity to deal with the shortages and suffer most among the urban population. Pressure is increased by strong rural-urban migration to Windhoek. This situation increases the need for climate change adaptation measures to prevent the escalation of the crisis. Adaptation can be implemented by governmental as well as non-governmental actors.  However, due to lack of research it is not clear which actors are better equipped to implement climate change adaptation, especially in the urban context. Therefore, I decided to focus my master thesis on the following question: How does adaptive capacity of local governmental and non-governmental organizations vary who are involved with climate change adaptation in Windhoek, Namibia?

Thanks to YEEES I got the opportunity of a two-month research stay in Namibia from 2 February to 41 March 2020. From the beginning of my stay I was confronted with the high levels of inequality in the country which result in high crime rates and reduce the possibilities to move around the city safely. This applies in particular to the informal settlements outside the city center. I decided to focus on climate change adaptation in the informal settlements, as they will be strongly affected by the consequences of climate change because of their high vulnerability due to the multiple stresses they face. Therefore, at the beginning of my stay in Windhoek I went on a tour with a local guide to the settlements. Through this experience it became apparent to me that the insecure living situation in shacks made from corrugated iron, the lack of access to water and electricity, as well as rampant unemployment and alcohol consumption cause great suffering, which could be further intensified by climate change impacts such as drought and floods. From my point of view, this up-close experience was an important part of my stay, which improved my understanding of the overall situation and the context of my research.

Katutura, Informal Settlement of Windhoek

To tackle my research question, I conducted 12 interviews with local governmental and non-governmental organizations that are involved with climate change adaptation. To identify relevant organizations, I relied on my contact at the University of Namibia that was referred to me through YEEES. They also helped me with organizing my research stay including obtaining the necessary visa beforehand. However, in the course of my research I realized that there are currently far fewer activities in the field of climate change adaptation in Windhoek than I had expected. This realization has led me to adapt my research approach and to make the interviews more open to learn more about the context of the situation.

My findings imply that non-governmental organizations are more flexible in their implementation than governmental organizations and report to face less shortages with regards to resources and staff. In terms of their expertise regarding climate change adaptation, non-governmental organizations showed varying degrees of awareness on climate change adaptation and their contributions to it. The governmental organizations showed more awareness of the issue, but they did not perceive it as their task to implement activities on the grass-roots level. My findings regarding the cooperation of organizations also showed a general lack of effective networks regarding climate change adaptation. In addition, I found that there are several challenges local organizations face in implementing climate change adaptation in Windhoek including the fact that adaptation is a new topic, a lack of research and exchange of information, institutional barriers, the national governments’ focus on rural adaptation, the prioritization of other issues, and the lack of ownership and awareness of climate change adpatation among local organizations.

Overall, my research stay in Namibia has allowed me to gain valuable experience in the field of qualitative research and intercultural communication. With my research I can also contribute to the understanding of local structures and point out obstacles to climate change adaptation. Unfortunately, the end of my stay was overshadowed by the emerging Covid-19 crisis. Fortunately, this had hardly any effect on my research, since I had already conducted all important interviews by the time the lockdown came into effect.