Vulnerability to weather disasters: the choice of coping strategies in rural Uganda

Produced as part of the Adaptation to climate change and human development CCCEP research programme theme

Working Paper 91


When a natural disaster hits, the affected households try to cope with its impacts. A variety of coping strategies may be employed, from reducing current consumption to disposing of productive assets. The latter strategies are especially worrisome, as they may reduce the capacity of the household to generate income in the future, possibly leading to chronic poverty.

In this paper, we use the results of a household survey in rural Uganda to ask, first, what coping strategies would tend to be employed in the event of a weather disaster, second, given that multiple strategies can be chosen, in what combinations would they tend to be employed, and, third, given that asset-liquidation strategies can be particularly harmful for the future income prospects of households, what determines their uptake?

Our survey is one of the largest of its kind, containing over 3000 observations garnered by local workers using smart-phone technology. We find that in this rural sample by far the most frequently reported choice would be to sell livestock.

This is rather striking, since asset-based theories would predict more reliance on strategies like eating and spending less today, which avoid disposal of productive assets. It may well be that livestock are held as a form of liquid savings to, among other things, help bounce back from a weather disaster.

Yet we do find that other strategies, which might undermine future prospects, are avoided, notably selling land or the home, and disrupting the children’s education.

Our econometric analysis reveals a fairly rich set of determinants of different subsets of coping strategies. Perhaps most notably, households with a more educated head are much less likely to choose coping strategies involving taking their own children out of education.

Jennifer Helgeson, Simon Dietz and Stefan Hochrainer-Stigler