Linking poverty, HIV/AIDS and climate change to human and ecosystem vulnerability in Southern Africa : consequences for livelihoods and sustainable ecosystem management
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AbstractPeople in southern Africa are facing escalating levels of risk, uncertainty and consequently vulnerability as a result of multiple interacting stressors, including HIV/AIDS, poverty, food insecurity, weak governance, climate change and land degradation, to name but a few. Vulnerability or livelihood insecurity emerges when poor people as individuals or social units have to face harmful threats or shocks with inadequate capacity to respond effectively. In such situations, people often have no choice but to turn to their immediate environment for support. Evidence suggests that rising levels of human vulnerability are driving increased dependency on biodiversity and ecosystem services, which in turn, and along with other threats, is rendering ecosystems more vulnerable. This paper explores the dynamic and complex linkages and feedbacks between human vulnerability and ecosystem vulnerability, drawing on data from the southern African region. Human vulnerability is conceptualized as a threat to ecosystem health, as driven by the interplay between a number of current and emerging factors. We focus on poverty, HIV/AIDS and more intense climate extremes as examples of stressors on livelihoods and direct and indirect drivers of ecosystem change. We discuss how some of the responses to increased vulnerability may pose threats to biodiversity conservation, ecosystem management and sustainable development, whilst considering potential solutions that rely on a thorough understanding of coupled social–ecological systems and the interplay between multiple stressors and responses at different scales.