Assessing risk perceptions, vulnerability and asset adaptation in the context of climate change : a study of peri-urban and rural East London and Port Elizabeth, South Africa

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University of Fort Hare


This study examined climate change risk perceptions, vulnerability and the significance of assets‘ in climate change mitigation and adaptation in rural and peri-urban Eastern Cape, South Africa. It assessed the levels of local climate change awareness and how such awareness was articulated in local discourses, analysed actual risks (and awareness thereof) against those predicted by relevant statutory agencies, and examined the extent to which local residents drew on local knowledge, culture‘and traditional practices (amongst other assets‘) to mitigate their vulnerability and adapt to adverse climatic changes. The study was conceptualised against the background that most climate change risk and vulnerability studies adopt a global‘ and continental‘ focus and ignore localised variations and specificities – which makes it impossible to craft local climate change impact mitigation strategies that make sense. From survey, interview, focus group and observational data, the study found low levels of local awareness about climate change and its associated risks. It revealed that local residents blamed climate change-related phenomena on gods, spirits and other mystical forces. Agriculture, water resources, human settlements, health, ecosystems and biodiversity were found to be the most affected by climate change. A crucial finding was that, besides economic and other class-based assets, indigenous/local knowledge (ideational assets‘) played an important role in the ways local residents adapted themselves to – and in some ways curbed - the adverse impacts of climate change. The study concluded from these findings that households and communities have different degrees of vulnerability to climate change, depending on awareness levels and degrees of access to specific assets‘. However, in the main, climate change impacts in the communities were potentially curbed by culture, with indigenous/local knowledge and related ideational assets being the main index of adaptation and weapon against disastrous impacts. The study extends current knowledge on the significance and contribution of indigenous knowledge systems to climate change impact mitigation and adaptation, particularly in Africa, and demonstrates how local knowledge can contribute to global‘understanding of one of today‘s critical environmental challenges.



Climatic changes -- Risk assessment -- South Africa -- Eastern Cape, Climatic changes -- South Africa -- Eastern Cape