Data key to climate resilience in East and Southern Africa

Data key to climate resilience in East and Southern Africa

Understanding water availability, water management and infrastructure planning is reliant on scientific data. This was one of the key messages to come out of the climate resilience and water-energy nexus themed technical event, which took place at the sixth Africa Water Week, 18-22 July in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Prof Declan Conway of London School of Economics highlighted recent studies that demonstrate the significance of climate variability and climate change for hydropower and environmental flows, and present practical methods to integrate climate risks in sustainable water management.

Drawing from the UMFULA project of the Future Climate For Africa programme, Prof Conway presented the various challenges that climate variability presents to east and southern Africa’s water-energy nexus. Hydroelectricity is critical to the region’s energy security, he said. Economies from rain-fed agriculture are very exposed to climate change and as such, the understanding of the connections between climate and its impacts on water, energy and food should inform policies, institutions and investments with the aim of enhancing water, energy and food security.

“Water-energy-food security is linked to water management; water is linked to everything and whatever you do to water has an impact,” said Prof Julien Harou of Manchester University. He explained that the clarity and comprehensiveness of “best-case” trade-off analysis is a useful vantage point from which to tackle the interdependence and complexity of water-energy-food nexus challenges. Trade-offs are an intuitive way to make decisions, but are rarely two-dimensional. In the case of water – which is complex – there are multiple factors that need to be considered to help you make investment decisions.

Examples of performance metrics include capital costs, energy and operation costs, vulnerability, resilience, reliability and ecology. Trade-off analysis helps us understand the implications of new investments in complex hydro-ecological economic systems, can aid negotiation and decision-making.

But ultimately, such decisions are reliant on the availability of quality information. Stephen Mooney Department For International Development, DFID Tanzania, says they recognise the data gap in East Africa. The likes of the UMFULA project will help address that gap, he said. “We need to recognise there is a gap, address the gap and we need to move forward to integrate these findings into systems”

Prof Japhet Jashaigili of Sokoine University of Agriculture agreed. “There is a gap in terms of capacity, especially modeling. We need to enhance our modeling techniques and technologies.” He said there was a need to enhance capability. “We rely on colleagues from the north”

Mr Mooney believes the situation is improving, but there’s a long way to go. “The data we are getting is not in a format that can benefit decision makers. We need to be producing packages of information that are clearly communicable for the decision makers to be informed and equipped to make the right choices.”