Major international project to tackle climate change resilience in the Horn of Africa

(c) BBC Media Action (large view)

(c) BBC Media Action

(26-05-2020) Ghent University participates in an international project to help rural East African communities adapt to climate change.

An international team of researchers and organisations will help tackle food and water insecurity in the Horn of Africa Drylands. The €6,7M project, called DOWN2EARTH, involves 15 partners in 7 countries. Ghent University is one of them. 

Climate forecasts

The EU project will employ state-of-the-art seasonal forecasts and decadal projections of climate change and 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.

“We are studying how land use and land cover changed in the Horn of Africa over the past decades, and how those changes affected rainfall patterns, and ultimately water availability, in the region”, Professor Diego Miralles (Ghent University) explains.

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.

“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,” says Michael Singer from Cardiff University, coordinator of the project.

“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.

Apps with info on water storage and crop yields

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

Desktop and mobile phone apps will deliver timely information from the 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.

Under the influence of climate change, the “new normal” in the Horn of Africa drylands 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.

Why Horn of Africa?

The project focuses on the Horn of Africa drylands in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, one of the most food insecure regions on Earth. The rural communities of these drylands 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.

The project will also assess the socio-economic dimensions and human dynamics of climate change including feedbacks between climatic shocks, human behaviour and policy implementation.

Ultimately, DOWN2EARTH aims to strengthen regional climate services through capacity building, citizen science, information dissemination, expansion of data networks, and policy implementation.

BBC Media Action

“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,” Dr. Singer explains.

Part of this work will be undertaken by project partner, BBC Media Action. Building on their established media partnerships and climate adaptation work in the region, the charity will develop and train journalists from local radio stations to produce accurate and accessible programmes that address issues of climate change adaptation.

“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,” Dr Singer concluded.

Funding and partners

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.

More information

Prof. Diego Miralles