As a 2013 TRI Fellow, I spent 3 months in Malawi unraveling threads of human-nature relationships with the aim of better understanding how resilience can be increased for groups vulnerable to climate and environmental change. I wanted to learn about how environmental change refugees cope with relocation, how relocated peoples affect communities into which they relocate, and how these groups perceive climate and environmental change. My summer research sites were in Malawi’s Salima district, in the communities of Mphunga and Kandulu. I roughly followed a disaster forensics approach to analyze work done by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre (my partner organization) in Mphunga about 6 years ago. This area is flood and drought prone, and the Climate Centre interventions were intended to build up resilience of the community to increasingly variable, severe, and damaging droughts and floods. I found that a couple years post-intervention, the Climate Centre’s efforts proved largely futile: vicious floods pushed Mphunga to scramble to nearby Kandulu with little or no possessions in hand. My research revealed a many-faceted disaster. Environmental changes, clashes cultural and religious in nature, disproportionate burden bearing by women, miscommunication between community members, NGOs, and the government and more came out in interviews. I am using GIS analysis and precipitation data to better understand causes of floods and droughts and enhance my social science story.
Photo Credit: Rebeka Ryvola