Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation

Perspectives from a Century of Water Resources Development

Authors: Clive Agnew and Philip Woodhouse
Volume 1, Number 1 (2010)

Crop choice has a significant effect on drought hazard, and a warming world with higher carbon dioxide levels also heralds other changes. Wheat, for example, pictured here in Amhara, Ethiopia, is well placed to respond positively, because it has a lower water use efficiency compared to typical dryland crops (© ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).


The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the influential Stern Report both reinforce the warming of the earth’s climate system. The alarming environmental, social, and economic consequences of this trend call for immediate action from individuals, institutions, and governments. This article identifies parallels between the problem of adaptive management presented by climate change and an earlier “global water crisis.” It explores how adaptive strategies have successively emphasized three different principles, based on science, economics, and politics/institutions. This article contends that the close association between climate change and water resources development enables a comparative analysis to be made between the strategies that have been adopted for the latter over the past one hundred years. It argues that the experience of water resources development suggests a strong interdependence between the three principles and concludes that conceptualizing them as different dimensions of a single governance framework is necessary to meet the challenge of climate change adaptation.

holds a Chair in Physical Geography in the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester, where he has been Vice President for Teaching, Learning and students since 2011. He is an applied climatologist and hydro-meteorologist working on problems of environmental degradation and environmental status assessment. He has worked extensively in both the drylands and the wetlands of Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, developing strategies to improve the management of water shortages at local and regional levels. His recent research has been on climate change impacts on cities in the tropics and the possibilities of flood alleviation through UK upland reclamation. He was Head of Geography (2000–2011) and  Head of the School of Environment and Development (2004–2009) at the University of Manchester.

PHILIP WOODHOUSE is Professor of Environment and Development in the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester. Trained as an agricultural scientist, he has worked for more than 30 years on land and water management in developing countries. His recent research has focused on the interaction between political, economic, and technological factors in changing land and water use, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Recent publications include Water Resources and Development (2011), coauthored with Clive Agnew, and the coedited Valuing Development, Environment and Conservation: Creating Values That Matter (2018).

Access article on Berghahn Journals