Imagine all the snows of Mount Kilimanjaro had melted

15th May 2018

At the HyCRISTAL AGM in Kampala last month, climate change researchers were talking about 40-year horizons, where we did an exercise in small groups to each imagine the consequences of one of a list of possible scenarios. We were given our scenario and asked to work back to what we would have to do now, in the next 5 to 10 years, in 20 years and so on to prepare for that future. Our scenario was ’imagine all the snows of Kilimanjaro had melted…’

It was a fun activity, as these last-day-of-conference sessions tend to be, though the subject matter was scary and sobering. The groups were all a mixture of climate scientists, hydrologists, local planners and administrators, and social scientists, each with their own skills and experience to bring to bear. I’m always surprised how well these things work: all these disparate disciplines working together in a pressure-cooker situation to come up with a credible and useful analysis.

The feedback reports from the groups were pretty consistent: we need to take communal action, such as focussing on urban infrastructure and widespread crop adaptation. It was equally clear that short-term high-profile projects won’t solve the problem – actions need to be systemic not project based. As far as I’m concerned, the only effective way to respond to big challenges is through a series of small, tactical steps guided by a clear, long-term vision. If you don’t have this long-term vision, then you have nothing to guide your short-term steps.

So, as I see it, the challenge is to translate that vision into the right, short-term, prioritised actions that not only advance the vision but also deliver incremental value now. My experience of delivering software projects is that if you don’t start delivering something useful pretty early on in the project, you won’t get much buy-in to continue.

EfD’s contribution to HyCRISTAL, together with the Walker Institute, is responding to the impact of climate change in rural areas of the Lake Victoria Basin and we are very much focussed on discovering what our stakeholders (planners, policy-makers, hydrologists, meteorologists) want and need. As part of this, we’re building a database that we hope will bring together multiple data sources to answer their questions and meet their needs. The project is called IDAPs (Integrated Database for African Policymakers) and the data includes livelihoods, water, weather, crop and lake fish yields as well as climate change trends.

The first phase of IDAPs was to build the platform – a cloud database on open source software to handle livelihoods data. The data we are using is HEA data, EfD’s widely-used methodology for modelling rural livelihoods. This phase is nearing completion now. We ran a workshop that I wrote about a while back, in Kampala, last July, to get some initial direction from our stakeholders on what they felt would be the most important extensions to livelihoods data. We took the opportunity of being back in Kampala for the HyCRISTAL AGM last month to run another workshop, and to drill down on some of the high priority themes we’d discovered last time. As part of this, I wrote down about a dozen ‘stories’, each from the perspective of a different user – from a Farmer wanting to understand the likely effects of seasonal floods on his potential planting options to a Legislator wanting to frame policies to mitigate the impact of climate change on major crops in the next 20 years.

Needless to say, this was an extremely valuable exercise and I came away with a lot more homework to do! It’s always energising to see the impact your work can have, and to find and engage with the people who really understand the problems you are working on from the inside. This is incredibly valuable in guiding us to help communities of people resolve the issues they are facing.

Categories: Capacity building, Climate change, Data, Famine prevention and food security, HEA, Livelihoods, Uganda


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