GW4 scientists lead international project to tackle climate change resilience in the Horn of Africa

May 29, 2020

An international team of researchers and organisations has been awarded over €6.7M from EU Horizon 2020 to help tackle food and water insecurity in the Horn of Africa Drylands (HAD).

Image credit: BBC Media Action

Led by scientists at Cardiff University with substantial contributions from 13 other partners in seven countries, including a team from the University of Bristol, the EU project, called DOWN2EARTH, will employ state-of-the-art seasonal forecasts and  decadal projections of climate change.

It will translate this into clear and concise information that can be used by farmers and pastoralists, communities, NGOs and governments to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on rural livelihoods.

A major component of DOWN2EARTH involves improving the accuracy of forecasting climate variability in critical rainy seasons and assessing its impact on the total amount of water stored in soils for agriculture and deeper underground for drinking water supplies.

This improved forecasting will help to better predict impacts on farming, food and water production and increase resilience across this extremely vulnerable region, allowing the population to make better, more informed decisions.

Principal Investigator of DOWN2EARTH, Dr Michael Singer, from Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and Deputy Director of the Water Research Institute said: “Adaptation to climate change requires better and more timely information about the expression of climate at the land surface, in soil moisture required to grow crops and groundwater for drinking.

“This information needs to be delivered to people making decisions at multiple levels of society, from rural agro-pastoralist villagers deciding what and when to plant crops or move their herds, to government ministries developing new land and water management policies, to NGOs mounting humanitarian responses to drought-related famine.”

Dr Singer and fellow scientists working on this project from GW4 institutions Cardiff and Bristol are part of the GW4 Water Security Alliance – the largest water research consortium in the UK and one of the largest worldwide. It brings together academics and stakeholders with a common vision of addressing the impact of global change on water to benefit people and ecosystems.

Andy Schofield, Manager of the GW4 Water Security Alliance said: “We are delighted that the DOWN2EARTH project has received this fantastic support from EU Horizon 2020. The project epitomises what the Alliance is seeking to achieve: GW4 universities collaborating, with numerous other organisations, to deliver world leading research that will help to resolve water security issues for those in most need.”

A key aspect of DOWN2EARTH will be the support given to multi-level stakeholders about to how expand their knowledge of the climate and to better use information that is gathered from climate monitoring and predicting systems.

Dr Singer added: “We will do this in the form of desktop and mobile phone apps that deliver timely information from our modelling on projected water storage and crop yields for upcoming seasons. This information, based on the best available climate forecasts, will be co-developed with the target stakeholders to ensure it is useful to improve decision making at all levels from village to government ministry.”

The University of Bristol is the second largest partner in this consortium. Their multi-disciplinary team of researchers including dryland hydrologists, climate scientists, hydrometeorologists and computer scientists are leading the climate trend analysis and development of the mobile phone app, and are heavily involved in the modelling of water and food security.

Dr Katerina Michaelides, the Bristol team’s Principal Investigator, from the University’s School of Geographical Sciences, said: “This multi-disciplinary project is an exciting opportunity to combine science and policy with scope for substantial impact in the region.

“By bringing together so many different institutions within the UK, EU and East Africa, and enhancing the communication between academic and non-academic actors, we plan to make significant advances in our understanding of climate impacts on water and food resources as well as how people make decisions to adapt, and how institutions create new policies.

“The idea is to link up all the important facets of the climate adaptation problem within the Horn of Africa Drylands in order to create lasting impact.”

The project focuses on the Horn of Africa drylands (HAD) in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, one of the most food insecure regions on Earth. The rural communities of the HAD are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity and associated economic losses during drought conditions due to low socio-economic levels and limited ability to respond to these climatic shocks.

Under the influence of climate change, the “new normal” in the HAD will be characterised by March-to-May drought about every other year, but it is unclear whether other rainy months will support opportunities for adaptation to this drought-prone situation. Ultimately, DOWN2EARTH aims to strengthen regional climate services through capacity building, citizen science, information dissemination, expansion of data networks, and policy implementation.

Dr Singer said: “The broader goal here is to support the co-creation of new climate adaptation policies that acknowledge the needs of rural villagers and also remain faithful to the best available science on future climate change.”

Part of this work will be undertaken by project partners BBC Media-Action who will be developing and training radio stations in the region to produce new programmatic content addressing issues of climate change adaptation.

Dr Singer concluded: “This is part of our larger communication strategy to improve the messaging about climate change and decision options to larger audiences in the region and beyond.” 

 

Further information

The DOWN2EARTH project has received €6.7m funding through the Horizon 2020 programme and is made up of partners from universities, a regional climate services centre, a climate policy think tank, a UN organisation, a media organisation, and a humanitarian charity. Partners include: Cardiff University, University of Bristol, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, University of Hohenheim, IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Center (ICPAC), Ghent University, University of East Anglia, Food and Agriculture Organization-Somalia Water and Land Information System (FAO-SWALIM), Climate Analytics, BBC Media Action, Action Aid, Transparency Solutions, University of Nairobi, and Addis Ababa University.