|Climate change can deal blow to land tenure|
Climate change and natural disasters threaten land tenure in Asia and can even deal "heavy blows" to smallholders, according to a loose coalition of civil society groups pushing for land reform in the region.
"Reactive ways of dealing with natural hazards and climate change will no longer work: it is imperative for communities to develop resilience in terms of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction," said NGOs under the Land Watch Asia campaign in a paper examining the struggle for land rights in the region.
Climate change and hazards demand new ways of approaching land rights, the group said, noting impacts on agriculture, migration and land use. The impact of climate change and disasters on land tenure is an emerging issue, the group said.
Land Watch Asia is a regional campaign made up of 17 NGOs and People’s Movements from Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines and Sri Lanka all working to improve access to land and natural resources of the rural poor through policy reform and capacity building. It is convened in Asia by the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (ANGOC).
"Rainfall patterns and temperatures are becoming more variable and extreme. Rains do not come as expected; or when they do it is at extremely high levels. Farmers are noticing changes in water availability, water levels and temperature, which can have adverse effects on cropping patters and crop growth," the group said. Soil quality and water availability are also affected.
"Climate change can also trigger prolonged drought and desertification. Flash floods ensuing from rain have damaged agricultural production and other assets, destroying livelihoods in the blink of an eye," Land Watch Asia said.
Land can also be lost due to floods and coastal and soil erosion or even cease to be fertile, in the process displace communities and lead to loss of livelihoods, the group said.
For instance, it said melting glaciers in Nepal's Himalayas and rising sea levels in archipelagic countries like the Philippines and Indonesia can cause floods and affect irrigation in plains and coastal areas. As a coping mechanism for failed harvests, it said farmers often have little choice but to sell or lease their lands.
"When the land can no longer support livelihoods like farming, when it is marginal and highly exposed to hazards, or when it has been affected by a disaster, what results is the displacement of communities, or waves of environmental refugees or migrants," it said. "Displacement requires the challenging task of resettlement. In the aftermath of disasters, governments try to provide land to affected families but efforts are always inadequate."
Disasters may damage or even wipe out land records, especially if the records are manual, Land Watch Asia also said. It noted that in Pakistan, people lost their property documents during the 2010 massive floods that submerged almost 70,000 square kilometers of farmland, destroying crops and livestock. The Sri Lankan government was also forced to provide legal land documents following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the group said.
Land Watch Asia said climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DDR) are critical for building resilience, but they must be implemented with meaningful community participation. "More attention should be given to land use policies, given they determine judicious use of land, and can integrate sound CCA/DDR principles."
It said disasters happen not only because of a natural hazard like typhoon, landslides, earthquake, or volcanic eruption, but also because people's vulnerability exacerbates their risk to hazards.
The group said the poor and marginalized generally have higher levels of vulnerability to hazards, thus they tend to be disproportionately affected when a hazard occurs.
An editorial in Lok Niti, the journal of the Asian NGO Coalition for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, said competition for land, water and energy is increasing amidst worsening effects of climate change.
"With almost a billion people hungry, an unstable climate affecting food production, and the volatility of food prices, agriculture is ironically back on the international agenda. For civil society organizations and rural communities in Asia who have clamored for changes and decried injustice in this sector, this renewed attention is a welcome development," according to the editorial.
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