Climate change vulnerability and adaptation options
: case studies of four coastal communities in Timor-Leste

  • Abilio Da Fonseca

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    Timor-Leste, as both a small island developing state and a fragile, post-conflict nation, faces major challenges in responding to climate change. Subsistence coastal communities are particularly prone to the impacts of global climate change, in particular increased flooding, droughts and coastal inundation. This research undertook an integrated vulnerability assessment of coastal communities in Timor-Leste. Assessments were conducted in four coastal hamlets (Beacou, Sau Loro, Vailana), which represented a range of climates and socio-economic profiles in Timor Leste. Two ‘bottom-up’ approaches were adopted: (a) rapid, participatory, community-based vulnerability assessment; and (b) a semi-quantitative assessment based on data collected from 80 household surveys, which yielded 35 indicators that were derived from the ‘risk-hazard’ and sustainable livelihoods approaches. Identification of adaptation options, which consistutes a vital step in local adaptation planning, was undertaken in each hamlet and a review of relevant climate change policies and programs was also undertaken.

    All four hamlets were subject to major climate impacts primarily from flooding and droughts on coastal infrastructure, food security from both fishing and agriculture, and water security. Interstingly, exposure was not demonstrably affected by the geographical location of the case studies. Sensitivity differed only slightly depending on specific localities of infrastructure and other assets and was high for all case study sites. Adaptive capacity was found to be constrained by very low levels of of income, education and economic diversification, high levels of resource dependency, water and food insecurity, and limited access to government support and development programs—with the exception of one case study site which had community development programs in place. Ultimately, all four hamlets were assessed to be ‘highly vulnerable’ to climate change.

    Adaptation options identified were mostly tangible actions and could be readily implemented at the community levecommonly, including installation of infrastructure for impact mitigation, in particular small canals to divert water during floods and inundation events away from built infrastructure, a community-based strategy for the re-location of children and elderly people to high terrain during inundation events, re-vegetation of coastal vegetation and mangroves to reduce erosion and improve fisheries, and improved agriculture to increase food production.

    This research demonstrates the efficacy of community vulnerability assessment methodology for generating community-level understanding of climate vulnerability, and identifying locally appropriate adaptation options in Timor Leste. Local initiatives need to be integrated with other community-based programs, particularly disaster reduction and food security programs.
    Date of AwardJul 2015
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRomy Greiner (Supervisor), Karen Edyvane (Supervisor), Bronwyn Myers (Supervisor) & Rohan Fisher (Supervisor)

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