Community level adaptation to climate change: The potential role of participatory community risk assessment

Maarten K. van Aalst*, Terry Cannon, Ian Burton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

521 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the value of using community risk assessments (CRAs) for climate change adaptation. CRA refers to participatory methods to assess hazards, vulnerabilities and capacities in support of community-based disaster risk reduction, used by many NGOs, community-based organizations, and the Red Cross/Red Crescent. We review the evolution of climate change adaptation and community-based disaster risk reduction, and highlight the challenges of integrating global climate change into a bottom-up and place-based approach. Our analysis of CRAs carried out by various national Red Cross societies shows that CRAs can help address those challenges by fostering community engagement in climate risk reduction, particularly given that many strategies to deal with current climate risks also help to reduce vulnerability to climate change. Climate change can also be explicitly incorporated in CRAs by making better use of CRA tools to assess trends, and by addressing the notion of changing risks. However, a key challenge is to keep CRAs simple enough for wide application. This demands special attention in the modification of CRA tools; in the background materials and trainings for CRA facilitators; and in the guidance for interpretation of CRA outcomes. A second challenge is the application of a limited set of CRA results to guide risk reduction in other communities and to inform national and international adaptation policy. This requires specific attention for sampling and care in scaling up qualitative findings. Finally, stronger linkages are needed between organizations facilitating CRAs and suppliers of climate information, particularly addressing the translation of climate information to the community level.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-179
Number of pages15
JournalGlobal environmental change
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Climate change
  • Community risk assessment
  • Disaster preparedness
  • Disaster risk reduction
  • Participatory rural appraisal
  • Vulnerability and capacity assessment


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