Water, livelihoods and climate change adaptation in the Tonle Sap Lake area, Cambodia: learning from the past to understand the future
The changing environment is expected to intensify the challenges that people in developing countries are facing, particularly among the groups whose livelihoods depend on natural resources. The adaptive capacity of livelihoods largely defines the extent to which people can cope with future environmental changes, whether caused by climate change or other factors such as land use changes and water resources development. This article analyses the resilience and adaptive capacity of rural livelihoods around Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, an exceptional lake-floodplain system dominated by flood pulse. The research findings demonstrate that despite the people’s tradition of adapting to the remarkable seasonal variation of water and related resources, their capacity to adapt to unusual environmental changes is weak, with the poorest being clearly the most vulnerable group. Reasons for the weak resilience include villages’ relatively homogenous livelihood structures, unjust governance practices, increasing inequality and the lack of opportunities for livelihood diversification. It is concluded that while climate change is likely to pose a remarkable challenge to people’s livelihoods in the longer term, climate change adaptation activities should also take into account other environmental changes. Equally critical is the understanding of the broader socio-political context and its dynamics in increasing—and decreasing—livelihood resilience.