WEF Nexus Initiative in Africa Joins International Consortium that received a Belmont Forum project Grant- Theory of Change Observatory on Disaster Resilience (TOCO-DR)

The Belmont Forum is a partnership of national funding organizations and international science councils to promote International transdisciplinary research on global environmental change.  This consortium is funded under the DR3 Call on Disaster Risk, Reduction and Resilience. The international consortium is led by Dr. Mathew Kurian who conceptualized the project while heading the Capacity Development and Governance Unit at United Nations University (UNU), Dresden, Germany. The project builds upon previous work at UNU in Africa and South America by employing a Nexus framework to study drought resilience using cyber-enabled and place-based observatories for data aggregation and analysis using remote sensing and artificial intelligence. Mike Jacobson is PI for the project at Penn State (funded by US National Science Foundation), that also includes partners at Cranfield University (funded by UK Research and Innovation) and University of Sao Paulo (funded by FAPSEP). Other institutions include the Water Institute, Tanzania, Mekelle University, Ethiopia and at Indian Institute of Technology.

The overall aim of the Theory of change Observatory project is to enhance regional capacity to develop, pilot-test and validate regional climate models that enables the prediction, assessment and response to effects of droughts and flood risk. Millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa face disasters every year which obviously leads to food, water and energy insecurity. Besides the humanitarian consequences of disasters such as floods it also heighten investment risks due to creation of stranded assets such as wastewater treatment plants in developing countries. Global climate models can be used to identify the geographical distribution of disaster risk but without being able to specify the regional intensity, frequency and duration of events. In Sub-Saharan Africa the difference between what models forecast and the reality of dryness has come to be known as the East Africa Climate paradox. Because of model inconsistency, it is difficult for investors and decision makers to be forewarned about impending events and to respond when they occur. Two recent policy trends have however converged to enhance the potential for Cyber-enabled Effective Disaster Response: (a) the expansion of Regional Early Warning Systems (REWS) and (b) a growing demand for open data platforms to enhance accountability of decision-making processes.  

This project enhances the regional capacity to develop, pilot-test, and validate regional climate models that enables the prediction, assessment, and response to the effects of droughts and flood risk in Ethiopia and Tanzania. In addition to remote sensing and climate model downscaling citizen science will be used given the ubiquity of cell phones help ground truth (information verified/observed on-site) to complement environmental information and proxy data. Project outcomes include a) a place-based observatory based on principles of dispersed data handling and reuse, 2) co-curating and co-designing regional research that focuses on down-scaling and coupling robust models of disaster risk monitoring and 3) pilot-testing and validating composite indices as a means of knowledge translation with the objective of building a theory of change on disaster resilience. WEF nexus frameworks and approaches will be used in facilitating the design, execution, and dissemination of results of regional research. Linked databases will also generate nexus analytics on different aspects of a “web of data” relevant to disaster resilience and water energy and food security.