|Two-day scenario-based workshop in the picturesque Mekong town of Chiang Khan emphasizes need for visionary problem solving in climate change adaptation
The pulse in the room was still racing. Residents of this Mekong River community had just concluded two days of debating, brainstorming and forecasting development paths that this emerging tourist town might take amidst this new era of climate change, yet they wanted more.
“We’ve started something amazing here that none of us has experienced. Climate change is ushering in some unfortunate impacts on livelihoods here, but by forcing us to come together for the first time to undertake some forward planning, we may emerge stronger as a result,” says Mayor Kamol Kongpin from Chiang Khan Municipality.
Sumernet in partnership with Chiang Khan Municipality, Regional Climate Change Platform for Asia, SEI, SEA START, TBWA\Thailand and Inter Press Service organised an interactive scenario-based planning exercise for media and community members in Chiang Khan District, Loei Province, Thailand on October 8-10, 2010 to introduce the tools for future problem solving and long term planning in the context of climate change adaptation in the Mekong Region.
Indeed, long range planning in rural communities is virtually non existent in many developing countries, as they generally rely on the trickle down policies from central governments. But when it comes to climate change adaptation, these people cannot sit on the sidelines and wait, says Suppakorn Chinvanno, senior advisor to SEA START.
“National-level leadership on adaptation is necessary, however local communities must organize themselves in response to their own unique issues and appropriate short and long-term responses if they are to navigate through this growing global challenge,” suggests Suppakorn.
While this pilot exercise was itself somewhat unprecedented, what made it particularly unique were the tools and resources employed. This was not a typical public discussion, but was the same type of professional level foresight planning exercise generally reserved for the private sector or large government agencies in developed countries.
“This was a calculated risk,” says Dusita Krawanchid, SEI’s research associate. “But it was our aim to ensure such community planning could get off on the right foot with the best chance of success. And with the lessons learned in Chiang Khan we can begin to develop a manual to deploy such a strategy nationwide as well as in other communities within the Greater Mekong Subregion.”
Kanittha Nanthana, a teacher from Chiang Khan agreed, also echoing the feelings of many of the participants. “We’re very fortunate to have had this opportunity to begin planning Chiang Khan’s future, and most importantly see how necessary such planning is. Without a doubt this is something local communities throughout the country must take part in, and if it’s anything like we experienced, they are going to have some fun in the process.
Also unprecedented during the Chiang Khan workshop was the presence of two-dozen leading journalists from Bangkok, as well as Vientiane, Lao PDR. Adaptation planning and the impacts climate change will have on rural livelihoods is a huge unknown to the region’s rural residents, much less any strategy to address it. By incorporating journalists in the exercise they were able to learn first hand both the urgent need to begin publicizing adaptation concerns, and need to accelerate the proliferation of such workshops to address them.
"So often organizations want us to attend media trainings with a bunch of talking heads. There was very little of that here. We learned by doing, and became part of the story in the process,” observed Pongpol Sarnsamak, senior environment journalist from The Nation.
SEI along with the Sustainable Mekong Research Network and other partners are already working to take the lessons learned here to undertake a similar exercise with communities in the Mekong Delta and along with Vietnamese journalists.
“Climate change is forcing us to think outside the box,” says Anond Snidvongs, director of SEA START. “By bringing journalists and communities together to address adaptation planning is certainly something different, but if Chiang Khan was any indication, it’s a welcome departure from the norm.”