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Floods, drought are backdrop for Central and Southern Africa research launch

Future Climate for Africa’s UMFULA research team, led by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science, held its inception meeting earlier this month in Cape Town, South Africa. It was the occasion for over 25 partners to meet and plan the research priorities for the year ahead and discuss how best to engage key stakeholders both in Malawi and Tanzania and regionally across central and southern Africa.

The aim was to ensure that the four year project addresses stakeholders’ practical needs in the target countries by giving decision-makers and influencers, researchers and intermediary organisations a better understanding of the climate system. One of the main communications challenges for the UMFULA research team will be around climate uncertainty, and how to factor that into decision-making. The team will design scenarios and decision-support frameworks that will be aimed at reducing future climate-related risks while taking uncertainty into account.

The initiative has two overarching research objectives in its first year: first, to better understand the influences on regional climate in central and southern Africa and how they are represented in existing climate models; and second, to examine how stakeholder groups are planning for climate change adaptation, especially in the energy, water and agriculture sectors – and how politics may influence this process. During the next few months, the research team will meet with stakeholders from government, the private sector, donor community, civil society and regional and international organisations to establish a platform for regular dialogue to exchange ideas and share feedback.

Building the capacity of early career researchers, scientists and other information users to develop and use climate information is also core to the UMFULA initiative. At the kick-off meeting, participants explored the possibility for UMFULA to offer training and mentoring opportunities which would help generate long lasting impact. Presentations by colleagues and partners from FCFA’s FRACTAL initiative and the Climate Resilient Infrastructure Development Initiative (CRIDF) provided a useful insight into other relevant programmes.

The UMFULA research initiative is timely for the region and its demonstration project sites: the Lower Shire region of Malawi and Rufiji Basin. The Lower Shire region was severely affected by both floods and drought last year and the government is currently preparing its next Vision document for long-term development; the Rufiji Basin is experiencing disruption to hydropower generation associated with low reservoir levels and is planning important investment decisions involving key water using sectors which could alter water flows in the Lower Rufiji and its delta.