How climate services can help mitigate crises and conflict

'Extreme weather events continue to grow more frequent and intense in rich and poor countries alike, not only devastating lives, but also infrastructure, institutions, and budgets – an unholy brew which can create dangerous security vacuums.' (20 July 2011)

The 2010 flooding in Pakistan is an example of how the lack of proper disaster preparedness and management can lead to social unrest and conflict. Millions were affected, and as a consequence, many people demonstrated for access to medication and better food security. 

Being prepared and successfully managing potential disasters is of utmost importance to reduce negative impacts on economies, agriculture, and livelihoods, grievances, and conflicts. In this, climate information and services, i.e. the timely provision of important climate data to decision-makers, play a key role. The Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and partners develop such tools. Aiming at disaster-risk reduction and climate change adaptation and livelihood resilience, these tools have the potential to contribute to peacebuilding.

For instance, a low-cost remote weather station developed by researchers of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) can potentially help with improving flood resilience as well as managing the amount of water required for irrigation. The open-source tool was developed on request by the irrigation department of the Nachchaduwa catchment in Sri Lanka. Over the past two decades, Sri Lanka has seen an increase in the frequency of floods, with more than five million people being impacted between 2000 to 2013. The weather station is an early warning system helping managers of water reservoirs to maintain a full water supply for irrigation on the one hand, and avoiding runoff on the other. The remote weather stations measure rainfall data every five minutes and send an SMS to the reservoir managers when a certain rainfall threshold is exceeded. This improves the response time for managers to balance full water supply with enough storage volume for runoff water, and hence reduces the risk for flood damages. Performance evaluation of the tool a couple of years later showed promising results: The weather stations are accessed by reservoir managers regularly and are also used and further developed by universities and several governmental and non-governmental institutions. The Water Risks Research Group of IWMI, led by Giriraj Amarnath, has also developed other flood resilience tools such as flood inundation models or index-based flood insurance (IBFI), helping to predict and plan for as well as relief from extreme weather events. 

Another example is CCAFS’s (CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security) Climate Information Project in Senegal. In Senegal, climate-change-related shocks such as erratic rainfall patterns and rising sea-levels result in increased vulnerability to food security. This became apparent for instance in 2011/2012, when the country was hit by a severe drought and subsequent flood. In collaboration with the Senegalese National Meteorological Agency, the project aimed at improving the delivery of useful climate information such as seasonal rainfall forecasts and agricultural advice to Senegalese farmers on a large scale. Farmers use this information to plan for sowing dates or to select crop varieties, preventing crop losses as a consequence of unexpected weather events. An impact assessment study indicated that seasonal forecasts are transmitted to up to 7.4 million rural people across Senegal via rural community radio stations and SMS. 

 According to a recently published article by scientists of CGIAR’s International Water Management Institute (IWMI), understanding the relationship between water, agriculture, and poverty is crucial to inform policy-makers. This understanding, however, is limited. On the one hand, because there is a tendency to only focus on some of the many links within the water – agriculture – poverty nexus. On the other hand, because there are measurement issues on both the demand and supply side. For instance, the authors observe that irrigation for agriculture is mostly being assessed in terms of water accessibility, therefore overlooking the importance of the timing of irrigation and the quantity and quality of the used water. In the context of climate change and variability, addressing this nexus is highly relevant to prepare communities that are dependent on agriculture for future hydro-meteorological hazards and water-related conflicts. It is likewise important to further investigate how climate services can be implemented to meet the needs of diverse agricultural communities, and to pinpoint research and innovation gaps to improve decision-making in climate risk management.

Find out more about CGIAR’s climate security work HERE.


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