In a conference room inside the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources, a team of meteorological, natural resource and planning experts from Botswana and Eswatini on June 14 received a preview of a potential tool that could shape drought response and reshape policy in their respective homes.
“I thought it might be good to show you what it might look like,” National Drought Mitigation Center Director Mark Svoboda said as he pulled up a set of three maps on a laptop.
In advance of a two-day workshop in Lincoln that was facilitated by the World Bank, NDMC staff worked around the clock to build prototypes of combined drought indicators (CDIs) for Botswana and Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) using weighted data from three available sources. By the time the maps were presented, the teams from Botswana and Eswatini had shared the unique challenges of preparing for drought in their sub-Saharan homes and taken in presentations on the benefits of the three pillars of drought preparedness. It was time, Svoboda told them, for “the big reveal.”
He began with the most recent of the three, dated January 2019. The conference room audience trained its eyes on the projection screen, which showed much of sub-Saharan Africa, including the visitors’ homelands, awash in yellows, oranges and reds, indicating moderate to severe levels of drought. They then viewed maps from January of 2015 and 2016, a time of drought in the region that King Mswati III described at a 2017 United Nations general assembly meeting as “devastating” to crop production, adding that funds from other projects were diverted to mitigate the challenges. Svoboda said that the three maps were prototypes of potential CDIs for Botswana and Eswatini. Svoboda asked them to compare what the maps revealed with their experiences of the drought in the two countries.
“For Botswana it does make sense,” John Stegling, the principal meteorologist of Botswana Meteorological Services, said as he studied one of the maps.
“Looks pretty severe for the northern part of the country,” Svoboda said, turning his attention to Eswatini.
“It was,” said Russell Mmiso Dlamini, chief executive officer of the kingdom’s National Disaster Management Agency.
A next step would be working with farmers, landowners, politicians and other stakeholders to compare the maps with their experiences.
Svoboda described the maps, as well as the workshop, as first steps in building drought preparedness strategies for Botswana and Eswatini.
Nathan Engle, senior climate specialist with the World Bank, said that the prototypes offered a direction that the countries could go.
“This can be built -- if they choose to go this route -- it's already laid a nice foundation but also it shows the potential for what they're able to do at even the most basic level,” Engle said. “So that's exciting. It's such a gift for them to have that, for them to be able to see that. That was really wonderful for Mark and the team to put together. I know that took a lot of time and effort and they went above and beyond what was expected."
Dlamini said that the goal of coming to Lincoln and partnering with NDMC is to build an effective drought monitor for Eswatini at a time when drought is affecting more people.
Reuben Maboko, chief water engineer of Botswana’s Ministry of Land Management, Water and Sanitation Services, who presented on Botswana’s drought conditions on the first day of the workshop, said that the trip to Nebraska helped prepare the teams for their respective next steps.
“It was really nice to see the maps,” he said. “The most interesting thing was to see how what we have already correlates very well with the (prototype) maps, which was really good to see. And it got us really motivated to see that this is something that can be done. The next step we'll see is to make sure we try to bring all the stakeholders aboard in the very beginning, especially those people who we'll have as validators. That will be the next step, and trying to develop in more detail our plan on how we move forward into developing an experimental drought monitor.
“For us, drought is there to stay. We really need a drought monitor, because we believe it will help us to not only focus on the drought but to plan better for it and to be able to assess the impact of the drought once it has happened.”
By Cory Matteson, NDMC Communications Specialist