IHACC Annual Meeting Year 5 - May 2015 - Environmental Change Institute (ECI), University of Oxford, UK  (Photo courtesy of ECI)

IHACC Annual Meeting Year 5 – May 2015 – Environmental Change Institute (ECI), University of Oxford, UK
(Photo courtesy of ECI)

IHACC is a multi-year, trans-disciplinary, community-based initiative working with remote Indigenous populations in the Peruvian Amazon, Canadian Arctic, and Uganda to examine vulnerabilities to the health effects of climate change and develop an evidentiary base for adaptation. Funded by the IDRC and Canadian tri-councils, the project is based out of McGill University and the University of Guelph in Canada, Cayetano University in Peru, and Makerere University in Uganda, and is working closely with communities, Indigenous organizations, and government partners in the three regions.

The overall aim of the research program is to apply scientific and Indigenous Knowledge to empower remote Indigenous communities to adapt to the health effects of climate change on health. This will be achieved through 6 specific objectives:

1. Characterize current vulnerability

An empirical understanding of how remote Indigenous health systems are affected by and manage food and water insecurity and vector-borne disease will be developed, characterizing pathways through which climate affects incidence and prevalence, and comparing study regions.



2. Estimate future vulnerability

Vulnerability assessment

Future vulnerability will be characterized by analyzing how climate change will alter identified health risks and whether changes lie within the adaptive capacity of health systems. Vulnerability assessment (VA) is an approach that has emerged from the human dimensions of climate field to identify and characterize the extent to which human systems are susceptible to climate change. IHACC will utilize and advance an approach that conceptualizes vulnerability as function of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity:

  • Exposure refers to the nature of climate-related (direct or indirect) health outcomes.
  • Sensitivity concerns the organization and structure of health systems relative to the climate-related health outcomes and determines the pathways through which exposure is manifest.
  • Adaptive capacity reflects the ability of health systems to address, plan for, or adapt to adverse climate-related health outcomes and take advantage of new opportunities.

The recognition of the role of adaptive capacity and sensitivity is important, directing attention to health systems and the climatic and human factors operating at multiple spatial and temporal scales that determine how climate change will be experienced and responded to. Vulnerability is not just a function of how climate or health outcomes will change.

Working closely with communities, partner organizations, and scientists from multiple disciplines, we will identify and characterize the nature and determinants of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity, and how the interact together. This will begin by examining past and present experience and response to climatic variability, extremes and change (current vulnerability) which will provide the basis for estimating future vulnerability in the context of climatic and socio-economic change. At each stage of the analysis explicit attention will be directed to adaptation, in terms of how adaptation can be promoted, what adaptations are feasible, and what constraints need to be addressed.

A consistent approach and methodology used across the case studies will facilitate comparative analysis between and within regions, structure interdisciplinary integration, and provide scientific guidance for pilot interventions, adaptation planning, and capacity development at a local level.

IHACC leadership in the vulnerability field:




3. Implement and monitor pilot interventions

Adaptation intervention

Indigenous and scientific knowledge on health vulnerability and adaptation will be mobilized to implement pilot adaptation interventions at a local level. The overarching goal of IHACC is to combine science and Indigenous Knowledge to empower Indigenous peoples and their health systems to adapt to climate change. Intervention is a key component of the research program which involves the following key components:

  • Baseline research: Assessing current and future vulnerability of remote Indigenous health systems to climate change in the study regions will provide the basis for working with communities and partners to identify opportunities for adaptation.
  • Pilot interventions: In each community at least one pilot adaptation intervention will be implemented. Examples identified during project development include: youth elder programs to transfer Indigenous Knowledge on health in a changing climate,  negotiating access to confiscated lands to permit access to traditional medicines, developing rainwater harvesting programs to provide fresh water, and provision of mosquito nets in the face of increasing malaria risk. Interventions will be funded by IHACC, and monitored and evaluated by the scientific team, community members, and partners. Opportunities for scaling up and comparisons between regions will complete the assessment of the intervention as a potential policy entry point.
  • Adaptation planning: Building upon the research, pilot interventions, and comparison across the study regions, adaptation plans that identify and prioritize adaptation intervention and assess the sustainability of current policies, will be developed. Plans will be targeted local, regional, national and international levels. Reflecting the importance of oral cultures in the study regions, at a local level adaptation planning will focus on getting people to think about adaptation, working with local communicators and elders to develop stories, theatre, and radio dramas etc.
  • Indigenous knowledge bank (IKB): At the request of communities and partner organizations, IHACC will fund the creating of IKBs which store and make accessible the research conducted here and traditional knowledge on health. The aim is to make Indigenous Knowledge available in perpetuity to inform adaptation.
  • Community adaptation leaders (CALSs): IHACC will employ full-time local research assistants in each community for the duration of the project. We term them CALs because they will be trained in the science and politics of climate change, policy environments, importance of Indigenous Knowledge, rights etc and will have the skills and knowledge to continue the adaptation process after the project is complete. They are also essential to the success of the research program providing an important link between the scientific team and community members. Capacity creation of this nature is essential for adaptation.
  • Enhancing capacity of partner organizations: During pilot research, partner organizations noted the need for training in the science and politics of climate change. IHACC will provide this training and actively involve partners in the project.

To this end, IHACC will link into a number of ongoing intervention projects in the study regions, building upon completed work and existing capacity, to integrate specific climate change priorities.




4. Comparative analysis

Comparative analysis

Findings between and within regions will be compared to identify underlying determinants of vulnerability and identify transferable lessons on adaptation best practice. IHACC is explicitly designed with comparative analysis in mind with a number of activities designed herein.

Comparative analysis within and between regions and study sites is an explicit goal of the IHACC program and will lead to broader generalizations of the vulnerabilities of health systems than those pertaining directly to the research regions and communities. Moreover, it will identify adaptation best practice and transferable lessons between and within regions. The research program has been designed with this in mind, building upon a framework develop during pilot research. Key principles include:

  • The use of a consistent conceptual, methodological, and intervention approach across regions and communities, structured using a vulnerability approach
  • Focus on cross cutting health foci (food and water security, vector-born disease), themes, and objectives
  • Use of a comparative analysis matrix, a preliminary version of which was developed during pilot research
  • Annual review during project meetings of progress of different teams
  • Annual reporting on comparative analysis progress
  • Regular project update through conference calls
  • Student exchanges
  • Visiting professorships
  • Holding meetings in the study regions




5. Develop adaptation plans

Vulnerability assessment, and experience from pilot interventions and comparative analysis, will inform the development of adaptation plans which identify actions that can reduce vulnerability and increase adaptability. Plans will target multiple scales, identify resources for operationalization, prioritize interventions, and examine the sustainability of existing and planned practices.




6. Create adaptation leaders

Adaptation Leaders

The research program will train adaptation leaders within the scientific community, partner organizations, and communities, who have the tools, experience and knowledge to continue, develop, and promote adaptation during and after project completion.

Training of scientists, students, community members, and partner organizations is a key component of the IHACC program which seeks to create health adaptation leaders who have the skills to develop, promote, and advance adaptation after project completion. Training and mentorship will occur at a number of levels:

  • Student adaptation leaders: The next generation of students with skills in intervention based climate change adaptation research will get hands-on experience in the IHACC project, working with and mentored by scientific and community team members.
  • Community adaptation leaders: Full time local employees actively involved the research program and trained to take local ownership of the work and adaptations after project completion.
  • Partner organization adaptation leaders: Partner organizations will be trained to actively lobby for the rights of Indigenous peoples in a changing climate.
  • Scientific adaptation leaders: Project scientists will emerge with experience with a validated approach to adaptation intervention and planning in remote Indigenous context which can be used as ‘best-practice’ model for future work.
  • International networks: The research program will catalyze the creation of cross-cultural interdisciplinary networks for Indigenous health adaptation. These networks will facilitate shared cross-cultural training of adaptation leaders. Moreover, team members bring diverse and complimentary health expertise to the program. The Peruvians have pioneered epidemiological and clinical study design among Indigenous peoples in the Amazon; the Canadians are leaders in developing climate change vulnerability and adaptation approaches for application in Indigenous settings and have expertise in spatial and environmental epidemiology; the Ugandans bring leadership in participatory research and social science approaches to health; and international partners are leaders in climate modeling and application of climate data.




7. Indigenous Knowledge Bank creation

The bank will document and promote Indigenous Knowledge on health promotion, prevention, preparedness, and response within the study regions.




IHACC – Indigenous Health Adaptation to Climate Change from IHACC on Vimeo.