Getting governments to consider a proactive approach to prepare for future drought events is almost always an uphill battle. This doesn’t daunt Tsegaye Tadesse, a climatologist for the National Drought Mitigation Center at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
In August, he attended the African Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, where the goal was to develop a drought risk management strategy for all of Africa, a continent nearly 3.5 times larger than the United States. Such a strategy will enhance each country’s resilience to drought impacts.
“It is ambitious,” he acknowledged, “But you have to start somewhere; 10,000 steps start with just one.”
The conference may have propelled an entire continent into taking that first step. There, Tadesse presented a proposal on a drought risk management framework, “Drought Resilient and Prepared Africa,” which builds on the long legacy of international drought risk management work by NDMC faculty — current Director Mark Svoboda, Cody Knutson and Michael Hayes — and drought center founder Don Wilhite. The proposal was revised and approved by the ministers of all participating African countries over the five-day conference.
In the past, Tadesse said, many African countries have not placed a “proper priority” on drought risk management. Most often, countries have taken a crisis-management approach, rather than a proactive, preventative one.
But, since droughts are natural phenomena, they aren’t going anywhere. They are an expected part of all climates, and growing evidence indicates droughts in Africa are likely to become more frequent and last longer as a result of climate change and will leave severe economic and social damage. A report by the UNOCHA in July stated that more than30 million people in Africa were affected by severe El Nino-linked drought impacts in 2016, with southern Africa experiencing the driest cropping season in 35 years. The resulting food scarcity has led to thousands of deaths.
That means not having a plan really shouldn’t be an option.
“Each country needs a drought policy and a commitment to a drought policy,” Tadesse said. At the same time, he said in the proposal, “While each country in Africa has the primary responsibility for managing and reducing drought risk, it is a shared responsibility between African governments and relevant stakeholders, scientific institutions and the private sector, as well as UN agencies.”
To help countries create their short-, medium- and long-term drought mitigation plans, a Drought Task Force has to be created, Tadesse said. The African Union Commission and United Nations agencies also plan to help fund the creation of plans for the poorer countries in Africa.
“The African Union and delegates want to do the next step as soon as possible to keep the momentum going,” Tadesse said about the outcome of the conference. “Within a couple of years, they want to have an overarching drought policy and implementation plan for Africa.”
Still, Tadesse said, he and other leaders know political will and commitment is important, and planning for drought can’t be forced on people. Some countries may choose not to. But Tadesse is ever hopeful that won’t be the decision made.
“The president of Namibia, Dr. Hage Geingob was there while I was presenting the DRAPA proposal at the African Drought Conference,” he said. “I think he is committed to the issue, and that is really good. We have to try and move the needle and having his commitment to the issue will set a good example for other countries in Africa.”
Tadesse said generally Africa has shown recent enthusiasm for battling the issue, and some countries, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, already have policies in place. However, the plans need to be dynamic and improved periodically to incorporate lessons learned.
“These plans need to be proactive and dynamic and should be revised for each country based on resources, culture and indigenous knowledge,” Tadesse said. “Conditions change. We want each country to review their policy every five years, to look at what worked and what didn’t work, and then make significant changes if needed.”
The “Drought Resilient and Prepared Africa” framework incorporates the approach promoted by the Integrated Drought Management Program that highlights the development of national drought policies based on the three pillars of drought risk management:
· drought monitoring and early warning;
· drought vulnerability and risk assessment;
· and drought preparedness, mitigation and response.
Tadesse further emphasized three specific elements in the framework:
· policies and governance for drought risk management;
· drought awareness and knowledge management;
· and reducing underlying factors of drought risk.
If done appropriately, drought plans can help reduce impacts to people and property, but also strengthen the ties between the countries of Africa while reducing the monetary cost of drought recovery.
“Each country in Africa has a stake in this,” Tadesse said. “Having a drought plan is not just an advantage for an individual country. It also is a benefit to the entire continent.”
This work ties in closely with other recent work by the university in the Middle East and North Africa region. The drought center and the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute are working together with the Dubai-based International Center for Biosaline Agriculture to help the region balance water consumption and increase agricultural productivity, with a focus on drought management.
— Shawna Richter-Ryerson, National Drought Mitigation Center