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Extreme Events as Transformative Factors in Pastoral Social-Ecological Systems


Project Summary

Extreme events, such as severe droughts, flooding, and disease nepidemics, are known to result in major social, economic, political, andn environmental transformations. The effects may include new constraints non land use and livelihood patterns, altered access to crucial nresources, impacts on biodiversity, and long term public health nproblems. Cumulatively, there are often far-reaching consequences for nlocal and national economies. However, outcomes vary from case to case nand surprisingly little is known about why some extreme events result inn societal transformation while others of similar magnitude do not. In nthis project, a team of anthropologists asks the question: Under what nconditions do transformations occur as a result of an extreme event?Thisn research focuses on the response of Maasai communities in northern nTanzania to the devastating drought of 2008-2009. The local people claimn this drought to be the worst in living memory, stimulating massive nmigration of livestock and people from southern Kenya and northern nTanzania into neighboring areas in northern Tanzania, with dramatic lossn of livestock. The drought was followed by significant changes in land nuse and traditional institutions and practices, including previously nunseen restrictions on who is allowed access to the crucial resources ofn water and pasture. The researchers will probe why these transformative nresponses occurred during and following this particular drought but not nfollowing previous droughts in recent decades that were equally or more nsevere. The research will entail ethnographic fieldwork and surveys ninvolving households and village leaders in Maasai villages that were onn both the sending and receiving ends of the migration during the ndrought. The research is designed to reveal how and why responses to then recent drought differed from the past; how the impact of the drought nproceeded through a series of phases; and how experiences, decisions, nand innovations in one area influenced other areas and, ultimately, the nsocial-ecological system as a whole. The investigators have done nresearch in this area since the mid-1990s and thus have a deep nunderstanding of and detailed baseline data on traditional livelihood npatterns and past responses to crises, as well as relationships with nlocal communities that will help ensure accurate assessment of how and nwhy people responded to the drought as they did and what the nimplications of changing local practices are likely to be. Understandingn the responses to extreme events in this case where the situation is nwell understood and the local-level processes can be identified and nfollowed over time and space will have a direct bearing on planning nefforts to cope with the effects of future climatic events and other nproblems wherever they may occur.n



Project Details

Updated: 2019-09-23