Cumulative Pressures on Sustainable Livelihoods: Coastal Adaptation in the Mekong Delta
Many coastal areas throughout the world are at risk from sea level rise and the increased intensity of extreme events such as storm surge and flooding. Simultaneously, many areas are also experiencing significant socio-economic challenges associated with rural-urban transitions, population growth, and increased consumption resulting from improving gross regional product. Within this context we explore the viability of proposed adaptation pathways in Soc Trang province, Vietnam — an area of the Mekong Delta experiencing cumulative pressures on coastal livelihoods. A participatory workshop and interviews, using a combination of systems thinking and futures techniques, revealed a shared goal of sustainable livelihoods, which provides an integrated and systemic focus for coastal adaptation strategies. Emphasizing sustainable livelihoods is less likely to lead to maladaptation because stakeholders consciously seek to avoid optimizing particular system elements at the expense of others — and thus engage in broader decision-making frameworks supportive of social-ecological resilience. However, the broad ambit required for sustainable livelihoods is not supported by governance frameworks that have focused on protective strategies (e.g., dyke building, strengthening and raising, to continue and expand agriculture and aquaculture production) at the expense of developing a diverse suite of adaptation strategies, which may lead to path dependencies and an ultimate reduction in adaptive capacity for system transformation.
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