The Project
Research Context
Goals and Objectives
Study Area
Conceptual Framework
Methodological Approach
Collaboration and Integration

There is a strong scientific and political consensus about the inevitability of climate change and its global impact. Climate change is expected to stress many ecosystems, with serious consequences for plant, animal and human populations, making climate change potentially the most significant environmental challenge facing humanity today and a fundamental policy research problem (Godrej, 2001; Harper, 2001; IPCC, 2001; Leiss et al., 2001; Rayner and Malone, 1999; Sempere and Riechmann, 1998; Wheaton et al., 1992; Last and Chiotti, 2001; Bernstein and Gore, 2001; Smit et al., 2000). It will bring variations in local climate patterns, disturbing ecosystems and soil landscapes and impacting economic production and social conditions, such as health.

However, despite the existing consensus regarding global warming, there is still a limited understanding of how climate change may impact on regional institutional conditions and on the availability of basic natural resources. These knowledge gaps constrain the design and implementation of appropriate instruments to deal with climate change.

It is expected, however, that in many regions there will an increasing scarcity of natural resources, such as suitable land or sufficient water, with the consequent social disruptions and conflicts. Most governments have adopted, with different degrees of commitment, a mitigation strategy to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses, signing the Kyoto agreement as the institutional expression of this strategy. Current mitigation strategies alone will not significantly alter the process of climate change and therefore adaptation strategies are also required (Adger et al., 2003; Burton, 1997; IPPC, 2001; Smit and Pilifosova, 2002).

Although adaptation can be a spontaneous response to changes in climate, more effective adaptations are likely to result from strategies based on sustainability principles that support the development and implementation of adaptive practices and processes in anticipation of the expected changes (Diaz, 1995; Diaz and Gingrich, 1992; Gauthier, 1999).

Proactive adaptation strategies are particularly critical in regions that have greatest vulnerability to climate change risks and forecasted impacts of climate change (Handmer et al., 1999). The potential for conflict as a response to resource scarcity has been well-documented (Gleick, 1993; Homer-Dixon, 1999; Remans, 1995; Yoffe and Wolf, 1999). Social and biophysical realities are intimately linked with the potential for conflict as people experience increased or decreased security, impacts on their well being, and new types of equality and equity or inequality and inequity (Deaton, 2001; Dollar and Gatti, 1999; Ogwanga, 1995; Pong, 1991). They may act or fail to act, invest or dis-invest, in ways that increase resilience or vulnerability, and sustain or degrade ecological systems.

Dryland areas currently subject to water shortages are at great risk. In Canada, large areas within the prairie region, responsible for 80% of Canada's agricultural output, are particularly vulnerable. CCIAD (2002) has summarized the potential impacts of climate change on water resources for the prairies. These impacts include:

  1. Changes in annual streamflow (possible large declines in summer) with implications for urban and rural localities, agriculture, hydroelectric generation, ecosystems and water apportionment;
  2. Increased aridity and likelihood of severe drought with losses in agricultural production and changes in land use;
  3. Increases or decreases in irrigation demand and water availability with uncertain impacts on groundwater, streamflow and water quality.

The CWB in Chile faces similar climate change risks with more dramatic results. Historically, the region has experienced a long-term decrease in annual rainfall and an increase in aridity, accompanied by a deterioration of environmental conditions. One of the most significant problems has been soil degradation, produced by human activities such as excessive use of dryland agriculture and sheep ranching. The combined result has been a process of desertification at an annual rate of expansion in affected land area of 0.4 - 1.4 %. One of the most critical potential impacts of climate change in the CWB will be an intensification of the process of desertification as a result of an increase in mean annual temperature and a reduction in total annual precipitation. The melting of snow and ice in the Andes mountains may produce an increase in the streamflow of rivers in the short-term, but in the long term the region will face an increasing aridity that will have serious implications for the regional population and the existing ecosystems (CONAMA, 1999).

Existing climate change risks as well as the forecasted impacts of climate change on the regional water supply will require adaptations in order to maximize the benefits of water and reduce threats associated with scarce water resources (see Kulshreshtha et al., 2002; Jones, 2000, 2001). Those adaptations will likely include the development of new technological measures, such as more efficient irrigation technologies or inter-basin water transfer between reservoirs, and the implementation of political and social measures in order to avoid the potential tensions and conflicts related to resource scarcity on one side and institutional and policy failures on the other.

Nonetheless, the impacts of increased water shortages on the Canadian prairies resulting from climate change will place increased stress on already vulnerable institutions. While the extent of that additional stress is difficult to predict, it can be inferred from situations in other geographic regions which are already exposed to climatic conditions similar to those forecasted to occur in the prairies of Canada from climate change, i.e., where an analysis over time is not feasible, a spatial comparison offers experimental advantages.



The goal of our project is to develop a systematic and comprehensive understanding of the technical and social capacities of regional institutions to formulate and implement strategies of adaptation to climate change risks and the forecasted impacts of climate change on the supply and management of water resources in dryland environments. We will address this goal through a comparative study of two large, regional, dryland water basins at different stages of social and environmental vulnerability to climate change. The research objectives are:

  1. To identify the current physical and social vulnerabilities related to water resource scarcity in the two dryland regions;
  2. To examine the effects of climate change risks on the identified vulnerabilities;
  3. To assess the technical and social adaptive capacities of the regional institutions to address the vulnerabilities to current water scarcity and climate change risks:
    • An assessment of the presence or absence of institutional characteristics that may facilitate the process of adaptation;
    • An analysis of the role of institutions in the resolution of a group of recent conflicts related to water scarcity;
    • A historical study of institutional adaptation to periods characterized by water scarcities.

All research objectives are complemented with strong civic engagement and dissemination programs to inform the researchers, stakeholders, academic audiences, and the general public.

The successful attainment of these objectives will have an impact both on scholarship and society. The project addresses a critical and timely issue of national and international significance that has not been systematically studied at the empirical level. Most scholarly efforts in the area of climate change have been directed to the understanding of mitigation, ignoring the urgent issue of adaptation.

The proposed project will provide a better understanding and powerful theoretical and empirical insights about (1) social actors' understanding and definitions of vulnerabilities to climate, (2) the capacity of institutions to adapt under various scenarios of risk associated with climate change, (3) a better understanding of the reaction of institutional actors to the impacts of climate change and their predisposition to adopt coping strategies, and (4) valuable policy-oriented information for the design and implementation of adaptation policies and programs that are critical for the sustainable development of dryland regions.

The complexities of our research require a team of experts from various disciplines. It is fundamental to develop a new mode of research collaboration, bringing together social and natural scientists, as well as institutional partners, and to organize them into teams that are capable of facing the challenge of understanding the multiplicity of links between climate change and society.

Most of the project scientists are associated with universities: the Universidad de La Serena (ULS) and the Universidad ARCIS in Chile; the University of Regina (UR), the University of Saskatchewan (US), the University of British Columbia (UBC), the University of Guelph (UG) and the Athabasca University in Canada, and with other national and regional institutions acting as partners, such as the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (PFRA) in Canada and the Instituto de Ecologica Politica (IEP) in Chile. This project offers the important opportunity for social and natural scientists to understand in a very concrete way the interactions of aspects of nature and society.

Linking the social and natural sciences will expand the understanding of social scientists regarding approaches to natural science, i.e. improve their realist understanding as well as expand their understanding of research strategies that integrate information (such as in the use of geographic information systems). Conversely, natural scientists will benefit from a broader understanding of the application of climate change scenarios, since global warming is fundamentally a social problem.

Furthermore, given the political importance of this topic, it is clear that this study must proceed as applied research. In these terms, we recognize the fundamental value of the experience of stakeholders and the need to use that experience as a valuable research tool. Accordingly, the research strategy is founded on a civic engagement process involving consultation with stakeholders throughout the project, and a strong program of dissemination among these stakeholders. This study specifically promotes broadly based collaborative research across disciplines, departments, faculties, sciences and universities. It also links the social and natural sciences in a multidisciplinary study and, as well, links universities with public sector groups, stakeholders and government agencies, thereby addressing important objectives of the MCRI program.



The river basin is widely acknowledged as the appropriate unit of analysis for water resources management and accordingly was identified by the United Nations Conference of Environment and Development (UNCED 1992), as the logical unit for integrated water resource management in Agenda 21, chapter 18. Two basins will be the focus of this research effort: the South Saskatchewan River Basin (SSRB) in Canada and the Coquimbo Water Basin (CWB) in Chile.

The SSRB stretches from the Rocky Mountains across southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, covering an area of 420,000 square kilometres with an estimated population of 1.5 million. The basin is divided into five major watersheds: Bow, Oldman, Red Deer, South Saskatchewan (Alberta) and South Saskatchewan (Saskatchewan). Approximately 65% of the basin population lives in major urban centres, notably Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Swift Current, and Saskatoon. The basin is under the jurisdiction of two provincial governments, Alberta and Saskatchewan, and there are a large number of local governments (rural municipalities) and approximately 225 rural communities (Sobool and Kulshreshtha, 2003).

The SSRB land use is primarily large and medium scale agriculture, producing commercial crops such as wheat and canola. Livestock production is also a main agricultural activity with large areas left for pasture. There are numerous dams, reservoirs, diversions and irrigation projects. In southern Alberta, 13 irrigation districts divert about 2.3 billion cubic metres (1.8 million acre-feet) of water to irrigate about 500,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of land. Approximately 120,000 ha (300,000 acres) of land are irrigated by 25 irrigation districts throughout southern Saskatchewan. In addition to supplying water for irrigation, the basin is used for recreation, hydro-electricity and is the principal source of household water for 45% of Saskatchewan's population.

The selected area in Chile covers approximately 41,000 square kilometres (5.5 % of Chile), with an estimated population of 605,000 (4% of the national population). Almost four-fifths of this population lives in three large urban centers-La Serena, Coquimbo, and Ovalle. The area has three major watersheds: Elqui, Limari, and Choapa. At the public institutional level, the area has a regional government with a number of agencies which mirror those existing at the national level (health, environment, economic development, etc.), and fifteen local governments. In addition, the basin has a large number of civil society organizations. A recent research report from the ULS identified approximately 1,400 active local organizations, such as trade unions, neighborhood and women associations, cultural centres, youth organizations, and many others (Morales, Vera, and Jimenez, 2002).

The most important economic activities of the area in Chile are agriculture and mining, two activities that impose an increasing pressure upon scarce water resources. Most agricultural activities in the region are related to fruit-production, especially grapes for exportation and for the production of brandy. There are also significant pockets of small agriculture that contain most of the poor rural households in the area. For a detailed description of this region see Bodini and Araya (1999), Cepeda (1999) and Morales (1999).

There is much to be learned from the study of institutional capacities and adaptation in the SSRB in comparison to the CWB:

  1. The two regions are characterized by a similar environment-a dry climate adjacent to a major mountain system and landscapes at risk of desertification (Grainger et al., 2000; Government of Chile, 2002; Sauchyn et al., 2002a). It is expected that both regions will be similarly affected by climate change with drier conditions, more extreme events, and increasing climatic uncertainty (CONAMA, 1999; Morales-Arnao, 1999; Sauchyn et al., 2002b). The current semiarid climate of the CWB is a spatial analogue of the possible climate for the SSRB in future years.
  2. Both have a regional economy based mostly on an intensive exploitation of natural resources-mainly agricultural production oriented to national and international markets with a large proportion of their production in cash crops, and relatively large areas dedicated to livestock production. Moreover, in both regions agricultural production is very dependent on irrigation water derived from snow and glaciers in the adjacent mountains. In recent years, this critical water source has been declining in both regions.
  3. Current research supported by the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (Sauchyn et al., 2002a) suggests that agricultural production in the western Canadian plains will be seriously impacted in this century by reduced soil moisture, more frequent drought, and reduced stream flows from the Rocky Mountains. Similar problems already exist in the CWB of Chile, where most precipitation occurs in winter, with positive anomalies recorded during El Niño events. This variability strongly influences the local economy (Compagnucci, 2000; CONAMA, 2002; Fiebig et al., 2003; Ruttland and Fuenzalida, 1991). Andean glaciers have receded dramatically or disappeared completely (Basso, 1997) causing declining stream flows (Morales-Arnao, 1999) and snow cover is less extensive and more variable. Watersheds in dry environments, such as the semiarid CWB and the subhumid SSRB, are especially sensitive because annual runoff already is highly variable and drought is historically common (Sauchyn and Skinner, 2001). Thus, the issue of the sustainability of water resources is fundamental in any analysis of the effects of climate change upon these regions. Accordingly, and in order to focus our research energies and efforts, we selected water as the fundamental natural resource around which the project's activities will be organized.
  4. In both regions agriculture plays a critical economic role and water resources are important to agriculture.
  5. The institutions serving the region are relatively stable.
  6. The governments of the regions have in place policies and programs that reflect concern about the effects of climate change on water and the governments are committed to environmental sustainability objectives.
  7. Both the Canadian and Chilean governments have ratified the Kyoto Protocol and have established national climate change research networks. There are, however, relevant differences that allow for comparative analysis. Chile has developed an institutional system that is more centralized than the Canadian case, influencing the application of policies and programs in the region.
    Furthermore, neo-liberal globalization tends to have more negative consequences on vulnerable populations and given the relatively larger number of poor and marginalized in Chile, it has had a correspondingly greater negative impact affecting the social and economic conditions of the population and the priorities in governments' agendas.

The potential environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change on future water supplies in the two areas are attracting increased attention from the research community and government. Natural scientists in the two regions have received funding to initiate major collaborative research projects.

In Chile, the focus is on the impact of climate change and ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) on the hydrological cycle and ecological productivity in the semi-arid zone of north-central Chile. In Canada, researchers are modeling future runoff from the Rocky Mountains and determining vulnerability of water users to changing water supplies.

Five of the Canadian and Chilean researchers identified in our MCRI proposal (Sauchyn, Wheaton, Kulshreshtha, Fiebig, Cepeda) are involved in these independent studies of climate change and water in their respective countries. Their involvement greatly facilitates this MCRI project since the necessary physical science data on climate change and future water supplies will be derived from their contemporaneous studies. That will give us access to the necessary environmental data and enable our MCRI team to focus on the social consequences of climate change risks and the forecasted changes in climate and water supplies, and on the comparative adaptive capacity of institutions in the two study regions.

In response to our letter-of-intent, the MCRI Adjudication Committee raised the issue of site selection, expressing the concern that two sites might be insufficient for a meaningful comparative study. We were insufficiently clear in the LOI regarding the geographic scope of the two regions and we should not have referred to the two large study regions as sites. Our reasons for maintaining the two cases are several:

  1. The two regions provide the necessary microcosms that allow for the understanding of the complexities of the impacts of climate change upon society. Both regions cover large geographic areas (an area larger than Newfoundland, Labrador and Nova Scotia combined) with natural diversity, involving hundreds of rural communities, middle and large urban centres, different levels of governments-municipalities, regional or provincial, and national governments that impact on the two areas through an array of policies, programs and agencies. In addition, both regions have a vibrant civil society that involves a large number of NGOs, social movements, and local organizations. Rather than interpreting these two regions as sites, we will be studying numerous sites for comparative purposes across the two very large regions.
  2. Financial constraints and limited human resources impose limits to selecting additional large regions. The analysis of the complex institutional systems in these two regions and the mapping of vulnerabilities already require a considerable budget and a large number of researchers and research assistants. The addition of other research areas, requiring the same level of in-depth analysis that we are suggesting for the two selected regions, implies financial and human requirements that go beyond the financial support available from SSHRC, universities and partners.
  3. The two study regions comply with the conditions for using comparative methods. Comparative research examines patterns of similarities and differences across a moderate number of cases, where the number of cases is limited because of the need to establish a familiarity with each study area. The two regions proposed here have similar economies, similar potential outcomes as a result of climate change impact, and strong institutional systems, but there are substantial institutional differences. In these terms, from a methodological point of view we have the conditions for a study of diversity within a given set of cases (Ragin, 1994).
  4. The primary intent of our research is to develop an understanding of the multiple processes that affect the adaptive capacity of regional institutions in dryland regions and we will be able to generalize those results to similar cases.



The approach adopted in this proposal is part of a growing theoretical direction that attempts to correct one of the most serious deficiencies of the social sciences: a fundamental anthropocentrism that excludes non-social dimensions and the biophysical reality from the explanation of social processes and events (Catton and Dunlap, 1978; Strydom, 2002). From this perspective, our basic assumption is that any understanding of the impacts of climate change and human responses to those potential impacts requires a focus on the relationships between nature and society.

The theoretical core of our proposal is the relationship and interchange between ecological conditions and social patterns in different spatial-temporal contexts. It recognizes both the constraints imposed by social and biophysical conditions and the presence of a structured agency able to recognize and foster changes in the existing institutional settings within the context of ecological services supplied through the natural environment.

Our primary research question is: To what extent do institutions have the capacity to react to perceived biophysical and socio-economic vulnerabilities associated with the impacts of climate change? A systematic response to this question requires us to identify both the environmental and social elements that are the most vulnerable to climate variability and the climate change risks that may emerge in different climate change scenarios.

Our conceptual framework is organized around several core concepts: climate change risk, vulnerability, adaptation, and institutions. We define climate change risk after Willows and Connell (2003) as the combination of the known probability of a climate event, and the impact or consequence associated with that event. Vulnerability, on the other side, refers to the exposure of people and environments to risk.

The idea of vulnerability applies equally well to biophysical entities-such as ecosystems or coastlines-and to social aspects, such as social systems, economic activities, countries, and others. The term vulnerability is now applied in the field of climate change impacts and adaptation. Although different definitions of the term can be found in the literature, the definition most consistent with current scientific thought is that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2001) which defines vulnerability as "the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity."

Watson et al. (1998) argue that the vulnerability of a region depends to a great extent on its wealth, and that poverty limits adaptive capabilities. Accordingly, vulnerability to climate change depends on the level of economic development and institutions and assumes the perspective of "double exposure," where existing "wounds"-such as poverty-might limit capacity to respond to stresses. Following from the work of Kelly and Adger (2000: 328; see also Blaikie, 1994) social vulnerability is defined as "the ability or inability of individuals or social groupings to respond to-in the sense of cope with, recover from or adapt to-any external stress placed on their livelihoods and well-being." In these terms, the social impact of climate change differs in the degree of vulnerability of different social groups (Bohle et al., 1994), which may result in a situation of "double exposure" where climate change and globalization create "double winners" and "double losers" (O'Brien and Leichenko, 2000; Olmos, 2001; for a historical analysis see Davis, 2001 and Grove, 2002).

In this perspective, we see social vulnerability to climate change as an issue of entitlements, where access to resources such as water defines the level of vulnerability of a social group (Liverman 1994; Adger and Kelly 1999). Investigation of our primary research question will permit us to understand how climate change could exacerbate social differences, which social sectors and actors are most at risk, and the types of conflicts that may threaten the social and political fabric of these regions. Our proposed analysis of vulnerabilities follows upon this reasoning, emphasizing the vulnerabilities and adaptive conditions of communities.

Adaptation is understood as adjustments in practices, processes, and structures to reduce their vulnerability to climate and to take advantage of the opportunities that the new climatic environment could provide (Smit et al., 2000).

In our proposal, adaptation to avoid significant economic changes and social upheavals requires an assessment of the regional institutional capacities to adapt to increasing water scarcities. In his analysis of environmental scarcities (with water as a central scarcity issue), Homer-Dixon (1999) argues that adaptation is a product of social ingenuity (technical and social inventions) that are facilitated by a proper institutional system, such as efficient markets, clear and enforced property rights, and effective governments. The World Bank (2002) makes a similar claim in its recent report on sustainable development arguing that problems that require lasting solutions (such as climate change) require the coordination of multiple actors. The World Bank proposes the need to reinforce the institutional make-up of societies to more effectively address the challenges to sustainable development. In these terms, the institutional make-up of a society and its degree of flexibility to new circumstances play a central role in our proposal.

Our definition of institution, following the World Bank (2002: 38), embraces all "the rules, organizations, and social norms that facilitate coordination of human action." At a more empirical level, this definition involves a range of possibilities, from informal mechanisms such as the social capital of local communities to the country's codified rules and laws and the organizations that interpret, apply, and modify these codified rules and laws.

Our assessment will be mainly focused on the institutional capacity to coordinate a multiplicity of actors and engage them in the practices and processes of adaptation that reduce the potentials for conflict. We are interested in those intrinsic characteristics of public and private organizations-such as the levels of human capital, instrumental rationality, coherence, and resilience-that could facilitate this process of coordination. We will also pay special attention to the indicators of the relationships between the state and society, such as the autonomy of the state, fiscal resources, reach and responsiveness, and legitimacy, and to the institutional capacities to identify needs and problems, to balance interests in the satisfaction of those needs and resolution of those problems, and to execute and implement decisions.

No less relevant in our approach is an analysis of the values that support the decision-making process and functioning of these institutions (Parry, 2001). Our interest is not only in the verification of these capacities and values, but also the analysis of how public and private institutions have dealt with past conditions of water scarcities. Two specific research activities will be implemented to analyze this institutional reaction. One of them involves a historical analysis of social and institutional response to a specific historical situation characterized by a long drought-in the Canadian case, the period of the Great Depression and in Chile the major droughts of 1966-1969 and 1995-1997.

A second research activity will be an analysis of recent conflicts around the issue of water scarcities. We are especially interested in analyzing how different institutions react to conflict and their approach to its solution. Our intention is not to provide a detailed description of the conflicts, but rather to focus on the aftermath of these conflicts in order to assess institutional adaptations towards sustainability and environmental scarcities and draw lessons, which can contribute to the identification of adaptive measures and capacities (Rojas, 1997).

Understanding the relationships between climate and society involves the analysis and understanding of multiple natural and social processes and their links. In order to establish a frame of reference for the analysis of these relationships, we have adopted a methodological approach able to deal with the relationships between two "open systems"-society and the environment. A closed system is characterized by no change in its internal relationships and a constant effect of external conditions. In open systems the relationships of necessity are always affected by contingency to the extent that the external conditions are always changing.

The determination of causality in this framework can be based neither upon regularity or orderliness of occurrence nor predictability of outcomes (Bhaskar, 1975; Sayer, 1992). Society and climate are characterized by a multiplicity of structures and mechanisms that analytically could be considered closed systems or subsystems, but in reality are always open due to the contingent relationships they have with other structures. The forms that the relationships between climate and society assume in a precise historical moment and in a locality or region are defined not only by the dynamics of the structures in each of the systems but also by their coexistence that affects, in a contingent manner, that relationship.

Thus, we argue that the relationships between society and climate are characterized by contingency, or uncertainty, and these cannot be grasped by theories that emphasize regularities in patterns and sequence of events. This project is, therefore, theory-building in the model of grounded theory/realist approach rather than theory-testing along the lines of empirical middle-range theory hypothesis-testing.



To achieve Objective 1, we will assess the vulnerabilities of regional social and environmental systems to past and current climate change risk. It addresses research questions such as: What attributes of the climate regime contribute to community vulnerability? What are the exposures of communities to climate change risks? How do different communities define vulnerabilities to climate variability? What capacities do communities possess to respond to climate change risks? Thus Objective 1 will examine current climate risk conditions and responses (social, economic and environmental) to water scarcities providing insights into community adaptive capacity to deal with future events.

Examination of community vulnerability to existing water scarcity will involve a focus on climate change risks through an assessment of attributes of climate regimes that contribute to the vulnerability of communities (Jones, 2000, 2001; Smit and Pilifosova, 2002). Community vulnerability to climate is a function of interrelated factors:

  1. Environmental factors involving the frequency, severity and periodicity of climate events that affect the availability of water, such as drought and changes in the magnitude of rainfall, i.e. there is variability across communities, regions and countries in their exposure and adaptability;
  2. Social factors reflecting the social conditions of the community defined by their access to resources and their understanding of risk.

A community's vulnerability is a function of degree of exposure to climatic conditions and its adaptive capacity to deal with those conditions.

The analysis of vulnerability to environmental factors will focus on physical characterization of the watersheds, water demand/use data and the variability of water supply. These evaluations will be conducted according to IPCC international standards and procedures used in other jurisdictions such as Canada (CEAWG and AXYS, 1999) and the United States (EPA, 1998).

Comprehensive syntheses will be compiled from secondary data from state, institutional and non-governmental sources such as the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, Alberta Irrigation Projects, the Saskatchewan Watershed Authority, Alberta Environment, the provincial Departments of Agriculture, the Saskatchewan and Alberta associations of urban and rural municipalities, and others. In Chile data will be obtained from the National Commission for Irrigation, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Public Works, the National Commission for the Environment, and others.

The analysis of the balance between water supply and demand will be done primarily by the team members who also are contributing to the existing research projects mentioned previously, which provide an environmental baseline for the project proposed here.

The vulnerability analysis of social factors will involve two main activities:

  1. The gathering of secondary data that will allow us to develop an objective picture of the regional distribution of vulnerabilities. For this purpose, vulnerabilities (as indicated in the conceptual section) will be understood as a problem of entitlements which will be operationalized in terms of the availability, accessibility, affordability and safety of water resources. In these terms, the profiles of social vulnerabilities that will be produced will include indicators such as levels and geographic distribution of poverty, regional income distribution, the existence of public and private water systems, amount of water available per household, level of contaminants, educational levels, and others.
  2. A program of community engagement (e.g. focus groups, stakeholder meetings) oriented to understanding ways in which stakeholders and people in the communities perceive and define vulnerabilities to water scarcities. The research methods will be: (a) analysis of statistical data (e.g. population, labour and agricultural censuses); (b) a literature review, including research reports, scholarly publications, public speeches, government documents, materials prepared by public and private organizations; (c) interviews of key informants in private organizations, NGOs, community organizations, and public agencies (these key informants will be identified with the support of partners and stakeholders); and (d) working with stakeholders using a participatory approach to emphasize community engagement; we will also organize focus groups with stakeholders.

The information collected through the vulnerability analyses of environmental and social factors will be integrated at two levels. At the data level, information layers will be integrated using geographic information systems. At the theoretical level, analytical integration will occur through interdisciplinary discussions/workshops/seminars among researchers.

With an understanding of vulnerabilities gathered from Objective 1, we then intend to examine those vulnerabilities in the context of the range of climate change risks.

To achieve Objective 2 we will use climate change model scenarios of the likeliest potential contingent effects of climate change upon the current vulnerabilities to water resource scarcity. The natural scientists will provide a range of climate change model scenarios according to IPCC guidelines (IPCC, 2001) and both the social and natural scientists will assess how the scenarios impact the current social and physical vulnerabilities in the regions as determined from Objective 1.

For example, from the climate change model scenarios we expect to define a range of low, medium and high changes in water scarcity against which we will map the degree of vulnerability to that reduced availability of water for ecosystems, soil landscapes, economic activities, institutions, communities, and social actors; the conditions that increase or reduce the vulnerability; and the potential conflicts that could emerge.

Our team of social and natural scientists will integrate the impact assessments within a vulnerability framework based on the "Driving Force-Pressure-State-Impact-Response" (DSR) Framework (modified from OECD, 1993), which provides an overall mechanism for analyzing social and environmental problems. Driving Forces, such as industry and transport, produce Pressures on the environment, such as polluting emissions, which then degrade and change the State of the environment (e.g. climate), which then Impact on ecosystems and human health, causing society to Respond through institutions with various policy measures, such as regulations, information and taxes, which can be directed at any other part of the system.

This component of the project will build upon, for example, the work of Yohe and Tol (2002) on evaluating the ability of systems to handle external stress, the ranking of environmental vulnerability by Osowski et al. (2001), the modeling framework by Ferreyra et al. (2001) which allows the exploration of outcomes of high and low scenarios, and the operational approach by Boughton et al. (1999) to estimating ecosystem vulnerability at the regional scale as opposed to the more familiar local scale. Our framework will involve:

  1. Expressing impacts in terms of social and environmental indicators (Bossel, 1999);
  2. Delivering the scenarios in a report form familiar to researchers, managers and bureaucrats (executive summary, recommendations, options, alternatives, etc.) and in a geospatial (GIS) format such that the scenarios can be readily applied to regional planning and resource management (see figure);
  3. Interaction among the stakeholders and natural and social scientists to ensure and observe the application of science to decision making. Interaction within the research team and with stakeholders will be achieved through continuous communication and with workshops to intensify the collaboration and to construct and apply the framework for collaborative development of the climate impact scenarios and analysis of impacts and adaptation options. One output of this objective will be natural and social vulnerability maps linked to climate change scenarios (see figure).

Objective 3 will be achieved relative to three sub-objectives:

  1. An assessment of various institutional characteristics that may facilitate the process of adaptation.
  2. A set of private and public institutions in each study region will be selected for the purpose of assessing their adaptive capacities. The criteria to select these institutions for our study involve (a) an identification of the most relevant institutions related to the use of water resources in the selected basins; (b) a good representation of these different institutions. We propose selecting institutions linked to markets (such as small and large domestic firms, multinational corporations, utility companies, farmers' organizations, and others), various levels of governments-federal, provincial, and local in Canada; national, regional, and local in Chile; and civil society (such as NGOs, rural and urban communities, local organizations, and households); and (c) the selection of institutions defined as water users-both in situ and those which withdraw water-and those that define access and use of water resources. We will make a special effort to select a wide representation of different communities and local institutions in order to ensure a comprehensive understanding of how they define the issues of vulnerability and organize their adaptive capacities. The assessment of the institutional adaptive capacities will be focused on determining the difference between current and future vulnerabilities to climate, using the indicators of adaptive capacity given in Yohe and Tol (2002), and on salient features identified in the recent literature on the role of institutions in environmental conflicts and sustainable development.
    These indicators and features are:

    Objective 3 will also engage communities in discussions of the "choice of norms" problem and will involve the analysis of the normative dimension of human-nature interaction, specifically in terms of an analysis of the characterization of climate-associated vulnerabilities, social responses, and the integration of science into policy. A practical undertaking will involve public engagement of people in communities who will be adversely affected by climate change, and who can provide a normative framework for decision making at the lowest level of subsidiarity.

    The citizen engagement procedures will include combinations of focus groups, in-depth interviews, town halls, phone surveys and questionnaires. Given the multiplicity of institutions it will be necessary to develop different data-collecting strategies for different sets of institutions. Thus, an assessment of households and/or communities will require the use of key informants, phone surveys of households, followed by narrow focus groups and interviews with community leaders. The assessment of private and public organizations, on the other side, will require a combination of questionnaires and in-depth interviews that could provide us with the necessary information. The other, more traditional aspect of consultation will involve the dissemination of on-going research to the relevant constituency.

    Natural scientists on the team will assess the technical capacity of the institutions to use climate change science, working with the social scientists to identify barriers, obstacles and opportunities for institutional adoption of adaptation strategies. One output of this objective will be a report as well as policy papers that outline a framework of indicators of institutional capacity that will serve community and government planning needs beyond the completion of the project.

  3. An analysis of the role of institutions in the resolution of a group of recent conflicts.
  4. Research activity for this sub-objective will focus on the analysis of four conflicts-two in Canada and two in Chile-associated with water scarcities. Given the expected impact of climate change upon the availability of water resources, it is pertinent to analyze the role of institutions in conflicts that have taken place around water issues. The approach to be followed here has been developed by Rojas in his analysis of environmental conflicts (Rojas, 1997). It focuses on both the examination of the empirical reality of environmental conflict resolution and the practical lessons drawn from this process and what should and could be done in terms of successful resolution. The tension between reality "as it is" and reality "as it should be" provides a terrain of inquiry where new possibilities-such as adaptive capacities-emerge as "potential realities." Data gathering procedures will involve analysis of archival data, interviews with representatives of the main institutions involved in these conflicts, focus groups with participants, and meetings with the stakeholders associated with the conflict.

  5. A historical study of institutional adaptation to periods characterized by water scarcities.

    The research activity for this sub-objective will focus on the most significant historic periods of water shortage in the SSRB in Canada and CWB in Chile. The current institutional environment in both countries has been shaped by the nature of the institutional adaptation to past droughts. In the case of the SSRB, the drought of 1929-37 was a crisis that produced many of the key institutions that are currently tasked with organizing adaptation to water shortages. The responses were varied but led to the establishment of the PFRA (1935), the South Saskatchewan River project and a Royal Commission concerning the federal-provincial division of powers and responsibilities in light of the near bankruptcy of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in the 1930s.

    In the case of the CWB in Chile, institutional adaptation to chronic water shortages by central and local governments as well as civil society led to the mass irrigation of the Elqui River valley, producing one of the most important fruit-growing areas in the country.
    As in the case of the 1930s drought for the SSRB, significant pressures for institutional adaptation were faced in the CWB during two major drought episodes, 1966-1969 and 1995-1997. Institutional adaptation to subsequent major droughts in both the SSRB and CWB will be examined to determine the extent to which the governmental and civil institutions created during these early formative periods continued to be active and effective social instruments of adaptation.
    The institutions examined will include both governmental bodies and civil organizations. In the case of Canada, governments include the federal, provincial (Alberta and Saskatchewan), and municipal orders of government and their respective agencies while in the case of Chile, governments include the central and local governments. Examining the differences between a federal state and a unitary state in its response to the crisis of drought over time will be an important element of this study. The historical legacy in both cases creates a type of path dependency that may be important in shaping institutional responses to future climate change in both regions. At the same time, understanding the extent to which a climatic shock can also change institutions at one point in time allows for more informed forecasting of institutional change in the face of future climatic shocks. The process of research will involve the gathering of archival data, review of secondary sources and government documents, supplemented by interviews.
    A fundamental component of our methodological approach is the analytical integration of the research results. Research seminars will be held in Canada and Chile attended by all project researchers, some research assistants and representatives of partners. The purpose of these seminars is to plan research activities, organize data collection activities, and the methodological and theoretical integration of research results.



Our experience gained from previous tri-council collaborative grants, SSHRC strategic grants and international multi-disciplinary IDRC and CIDA grants emphasizes that the implementation of our proposal requires an active and continuing integration of team members and research activities. We will use four main mechanisms to ensure the integrative process within the team:

  1. Collaboration in achieving the objectives. Each one of the objectives involves the participation of social and natural scientists, as well as the requirement to integrate the results of their work. Objective 1 requires that natural scientists participate in the mapping of biophysical vulnerabilities while social scientists concentrate on identifying social vulnerabilities. The analytical integration of these two sets of data will involve a special seminar to identify the nature of the relationships between the two types of vulnerabilities and how they affect each other. Information from natural scientists will also inform Objective 2 in which social scientists are expected to make an important contribution in the discussion and understanding of how the different climate change scenarios will allow for the identification of climate change risks and their potential impact upon the defined vulnerabilities. Finally, Objective 3 requires mainly the work of social scientists, but the need to identify the technical capabilities and technical capital of institutions requires the participation of natural scientists.

  2. The development of common instruments.As a way to foster integration we propose the development of common data-gathering instruments, such as surveys, focus groups, stakeholder meetings, and others. Researchers from different disciplines will collaborate in the design of instruments, supervision of field work, and data analysis and interpretation. This will allow not only for the development of instruments able to gather different types of data, but also for an initial discussion of how different disciplinary variables are related to each other.
  3. The use of GIS and the DSR Framework as integrative tools.Data obtained by achieving Objectives 1 and 2 will be spatially organized using GIS. We will be able to map vulnerabilities and impacts using watersheds and sub-watersheds to analyze the degree of concentration of these two dimensions in the basins, as well as the work of institutions in those areas. The explicit linkages between driving force, state and response (DSR) indicators will require social and natural scientists to collaborate on the interpretation of the linkages.
  4. The management of the knowledge process.As in any team, researchers in this project have different degrees of expertise and capacities for interdisciplinary work and for the integration of research activities (Somerville and Rapport, 2000). We propose as a way to facilitate the organization of this variation among researchers a modus operandi that promotes the use of the strong interdisciplinary capacities of some of the researchers. A significant part of the integrative work is expected to happen in research seminars where future work is planned and organized and research results are presented and interpreted from an interdisciplinary perspective. Researchers with significant interdisciplinary experience (Gauthier, Rojas and Smit in Canada; Salas and Cepeda in Chile) will be requested to present an integrative framework for the planning of future activities, as well as to integrate the research results, present the result of this integration to the rest of the team members, and coordinate the discussion. In these terms, these researchers will act as leaders in a process of increasing collaboration of knowledge.

A successful integration of the projects rests also on a number of personal qualities of researchers, such as mutuality, interest, and trust of other researchers. All the team members have proven to have these qualities through a long history of participation in interdisciplinary projects. The proposed project is part of an interdisciplinary momentum that began in 1991, and has continued through numerous projects and workshops, which have helped to develop a high degree of cohesiveness within the Canadian team.

Gauthier and Sauchyn were co-applicant recipients of a Tri-Council funded ecosystem research project (PECOS) studying prairie sustainability. Gauthier (PI), Diaz, and Sauchyn received a SSHRC Strategic Grant in Social Cohesion (2000-2003) to study issues related to regional sustainability in rural, southern Saskatchewan. That research focuses on government, economic, social, education and environmental policies, community organizations and indicators of sustainability, all factors related to the issues that have been identified as critical in this proposed MCRI study. Diaz and Sauchyn have worked together on the development of a social sciences research agenda in the area of climate change on the Canadian prairies, chairing meetings and presentations with social science researchers in the three prairies provinces. Sauchyn is the Research Coordinator for the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative (PARC), a research organization focused on issues of adaptation to climate change. PARC is part of a national network that includes a node at the University of Guelph involving Smit and focused on agriculture. Wheaton and Gauthier are actively involved in the activities of PARC. Kulshreshtha, Diaz and Gauthier are part of a large research team dealing with water issues in the SSRB.

Moreover, the proposed project is specifically designed as an international, interdisciplinary research collaboration building upon existing international collaborative efforts between the ULS and the UR. In 1990, Diaz led a project in which ULS faculty were trained by UR staff (including Gauthier) in quantitative methods and GIS. Between 1992 and 1995 several visits among ULS and UR staff developed a mutual knowledge of the human resource and technical facilities associated with each institution. Those initiatives resulted in a 5-year CIDA Tier 2 project (led by Diaz and Gauthier and with Sauchyn's participation) for training of professors at ULS and a Costa Rican university (Universidad Nacional), in theories and methodologies of sustainable development. The main goal of the CIDA project was to enhance human resource development in the two universities in areas relevant to local sustainable development needs. Moreover, in 2000 UR and ULS researchers also held an international workshop on sustainable development issues organized by Diaz and Gauthier with funding from the Canadian Council of Area Studies Learned Societies.

In these terms, all the team members have already a significant expertise working in interdisciplinary international teams. Recently (December 2002), Diaz, Gauthier and Sauchyn were in northern Chile giving presentations and preparing the LOI for this proposal with our Chilean colleagues. As indicated in the attachments to Diaz's curriculum vitae, he has significant work experience in leading and implementing international projects. He has been director and co-director of two CIDA inter-university cooperation projects, one of them with Chile (1991-92) and the other with both Chile and Costa Rica (1999-2003), and co-director in two IDRC collaborative research projects between Canadian and Chilean research organizations. Diaz was the Assistant Director (1983-84) and Director (1984-85) of the Chile Program of the Center for Research on Latin America and the Caribbean (CERLAC), York University. In those positions, he coordinated both the activities of several Canadian scholars and doctoral students doing research work in Chile and the relationships between CERLAC and several Chilean research centers. Diaz also has actively participated in the Canadian Association for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, being its Vice-President (1989-90) and President (1990-91) and currently he is a member of its Board of Directors. As well, he has been advisor to OXFAM Canada and CUSO.

Following suggestions from the Committee to our letter of intent, we broadened the range of disciplinary perspectives by adding six new team members. In order to ensure a proper understanding of technical issues regarding the use of water we added two water engineers to the team: Humberto Zavala from the Faculty of Engineering at the ULS and Darrell Corkal, from the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration (a branch of Agriculture Canada). In particular, we strengthened the project by adding four social scientists, one in Chile and three in Canada. They are (a) Bernardo Reyes, from the Universidad ARCIS in Chile. Reyes has a considerable experience in the areas of environmental policies and programs; (b) Gregory Marchildon, who currently holds a Canada Research Chair in Public Policy and Economic History at the University of Regina; (c) Barry Smit, Canada Research Chair in Global Environmental Change at the University of Guelph; and (d) David Castle, assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy of the University of Guelph and specialist on philosophy of the environment, science and ethics.

To ensure the stability of the project, there will be continuous communication and an equal partnership in the decision- making among researchers, partners and stakeholders. The following table shows the areas of responsibility for each researcher, the linkages of the researchers among the objectives of the study as well as the geographic areas of comparison, and the time schedule for the main activities.

Objective 1: Assessing Vulnerabilities

Objective 2: Impact Scenarios

Objective 3: Institutional Assessment

Main Activities / Timelines

Main Roles

Main Activities / Timelines

Main Roles

Main Activities / Timelines

Main Roles

A. Gathering secondary data (gathering and systematization of information on physical and social vulnerabilities). Years 1 and 2.

Cepeda, Morales, and Zavala (Chile), Kulshreshtha and Corkal (Canada)

A. Derive climate change impact scenarios from global climate models and regional analysis.

Years 1 and 2.

Fiebig and Morales (Chile) Sauchyn and  Wheaton (Canada)

A. Assessment of institutional capacities (design and implementation of surveys, focus groups, stakeholder meetings and in-depth interviews). Years 3 and 4.

Diaz, Castle, Corkal,

Kulshreshtha, Sauchyn, Smit and Wheaton (Canada).

Salas, Morales, Cepeda, Fiebig and Zavala (Chile).

B. Gathering information from stakeholders (organization and implementation of stakeholder meetings). Years 1 and 2.

Diaz, Sauchyn, Rojas and Smit (Canada), Salas, Reyes, and Fiebig (Chile)

B. GIS/DSR framework (coordination and supervision of GIS work). Years 1 and 2.

Gauthier (Canada and Chile)

B. Historical analysis (analysis of the Chilean and Canadian cases supported by a post-doctoral researcher). Years 3 and 4.

Marchildon (Canada and Chile)

C. GIS (coordination and supervision of GIS work). Years 1 and 2.

Gauthier (Canada and Chile)

C. Analytical integration and planning (integration of results). Year 2.

Smit, Rojas, and Gauthier (Canada), Reyes, Salas and Cepeda (Chile)

C. Analysis of water conflicts (analysis of Canadian cases). Years 3 and 4.

Rojas (Canada) and Reyes (Chile)

D. Analytical  integration  (integration of results). Year 2.

Smit, Rojas, and Gauthier (Canada); Reyes, Salas and Cepeda (Chile)



D. GIS (coordination and supervision of GIS work). Years 3 and 4.

Gauthier (Canada and Chile)





E. Data Integration and Planning (integration of results and future activities). Year 4.

Smit, Rojas, and Gauthier (Canada, and Reyes, Salas and Cepeda (Chile)


Main Activities / Timelines

Main Roles

Local workshops involving stakeholders (Years 2-5).

All team members

Production of videos (Years 4 and 5).

Corkal and Salas

Development of materials for printed resource packages, NGO and government newsletters; brief reports, radio programs and local newspapers (Years 4-5).

All team members

Establishment of document banks of relevant literature (Years 1-5).

Reyes (Chile), Gauthier (Canada)

Development (Year 1) and updating (Years 2-5) of Web sites.

Gauthier and Sauchyn (Canada); Cepeda (Chile)

Policy papers (Years 4-5).

Diaz, Smit, Rojas and Gauthier (Canada); Salas and Cepeda (Chile)

Scholarly book (Year 5).

Diaz (Canada) and Reyes (Chile)

Distribution of material (Years 1-5).

Diaz (Canada) and Salas (Chile)

International symposium (Year 5).

Diaz, Gauthier, and Sauchyn (Canada) and Salas (Chile)




Main Activities

Main Roles

Project implementation, the coordination of the decision-making process, and the development of the research activities

Diaz (principal investigator) with support of Project Manager



Facilitation of team integration

Gauthier, Smit, Rojas (Canada); Salas and Cepeda (Chile)

As the founder of the Centre for GIS at UR and now Director of the Canadian Plains Research Center (CPRC) which administers the UR GIS, Gauthier will coordinate GIS activity for the project and assume responsibility for developing integration of physical and socio-economic measures in the vulnerability / risk assessment mapping and modelling. Two GIS research assistants will assist Gauthier. The project will also integrate two post-doctoral researchers to work in the area of GIS and the historical analysis of institutional adaptation. A Project Manager will be hired to assist Diaz and the project will be administered through the CPRC of the University of Regina, which has the necessary infrastructure and 30 years of experience in the management of collaborative research projects.



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