Karina is studying how people living in the coastal communities of Central America adapt to environmental and climate change.
Karina Benessaiah grew up in Burkina Faso, Mali and Greece before heading to Montreal, Quebec to study Renewable Resource Management and Political Science at McGill University. Early on, Karina was exposed to places of sharp contrast where great natural beauty, cultural diversity and human ingenuity met acute poverty, degrading environments and rising inequalities. Wherever she travels, Karina finds that no matter their station in life, people share a desire for a better life in a healthy environment, for themselves and for their children. These experiences greatly shape how she approaches her work.
During her undergraduate, Karina worked in the Cree community of Wemindji in James Bay, Quebec to help create a culturally and environmentally appropriate protected area; she also assessed the social and environmental impacts of a proposed mega-development project in the city of Colon, Panama for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. For her master’s degree, in the department of Geography at McGill University, Karina examined the impacts of small-scale aquaculture on mangroves and livelihoods in Nicaragua, by integrating remote-sensing analyses to household surveys and oral histories. In 2008, she worked at the International Development Research Centre, assessing the potential of carbon markets to contribute to poverty alleviation and observing climate change adaptations in coastal Nicaragua.
Through her doctoral research at Arizona State University, Karina seeks to understand the systemic relationships between and among ecosystem services and livelihoods. She is particularly interested in how people and their environments, as a coupled system, effect and are affecting by change, and what this means for resilience, adaptation and vulnerability. By examining how different drivers of change, such as climate change or globalization, influence linkages within the coupled human-environment system, she strives to identify which processes lead to successful adaptations and which result in increased vulnerabilities. Climate change highlights not only the acuteness of potential impacts both in the North and in the South but also the inter-meshing of local and global responsibilities and vulnerabilities. Climate change adaptation research not only offers the opportunity to identify solutions that work for climate change but also those that contribute to a sustainable present and future.
In addition to her academic work, Karina also enjoys painting, ceramics, gardening, photography and journalistic writing. Not only do these activities provide her with a different world outlook, they also contribute to a wider dissemination of her research.
Linking ecosystem services to livelihoods: pathways from vulnerability to adaptation
While global climate change demands global collective action, those actions need to be informed by adaptations enacted at smaller scales. What does adapting to climate change entail, and who must adapt? Karina’s doctoral research examines what are the potential trade-offs (and synergies) between various ecosystem services and multiple livelihoods within a given landscape, and how these vary across spatial and temporal scales. By understanding these trade-offs (or synergies) between the human and biophysical subsystems, Karina seeks to identify resilient or vulnerable pathways, and thus contribute to more sustainable policies and management strategies. As a case-study, Karina will look at dynamics of change in the Gulf of Fonseca, a highly impoverished and risk-prone coastal region shared by El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua in Central America.