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Operationalising climate science: dialogue between climate scientists and humanitarian and development policy makers

Project Reference: RSGL-0007

Scientific learning and technological innovation hold tremendous opportunities for strengthening capacities to prevent, prepare for, and respond to future crises. Unlocking this disaster risk reduction potential depends on developing approaches which support effective dialogue between ‘those who make science’ and ‘those who use science to make decisions’. Only through sustained two-way dialogue will those with ‘humanitarian’ responsibilities know what questions to ask of emerging science and technology, and those with scientific and technical expertise be able to understand how their knowledge can better inform specific humanitarian decision making processes. The strengthening of this dialogue has, since 2006, been one of the key strands of the Humanitarian Futures Programme, bringing together providers and users of weather and climate information for knowledge exchange.

In 2011, CDKN provided funding to build on this work to undertake two pilot demonstration studies, one in Senegal and the other in Kenya, each extending over two rainy seasons. The specific objectives of these demonstration case studies were to:

• Demonstrate how climate science can effectively inform a range of humanitarian, disaster risk reduction and development planning processes;
• Contextualise emerging understanding of climate science alongside other drivers of future human vulnerability so as to gauge where intervention informed by climate science might be useful;
• Strengthen humanitarian and development organisations’ ability to access, understand and appropriately apply relevant climate information; and
• Improve climate scientists’ understanding of the climate information needs of humanitarian and development policy makers and the partners and communities with whom they work.

This project was led by King’s College London as part of the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP), with a large number of project partners from developing and developed countries. Partners included Christian Aid, the UK Met Office, the Kenya Meteorological Department, the Senegalese National Agency for Civil Aviation and Meteorology, and the University of Sussex, among others. There is more information on the HFP website.

Project impact and outcomes

The project identified, piloted and developed dialogue tools to support understanding and appropriate application of weather and climate information. The focus in Kenya was the provision of climate information to support rural agricultural livelihoods; in Senegal this was flood alert systems. The project led to increases in the use of climate forecast information in Kenya and Senegal by farming communities and by humanitarian agencies operating at a national level, to shape farming practices and programme planning respectively.

On the back of exchange activities, MoUs were signed in July 2011 between the Senegal Red Cross and the Senegal Met Services, and in February 2013 between Christian Aid and the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), to provide seasonal forecasts and short-term updates over the course of the rainy seasons. Christian Aid began attending the Regional Climate Outlook Forum (RCOF), where the consensus seasonal forecast is developed, and Kenyan Meteorological Department’s (KMD) national climate outlook forum where the national seasonal forecast is delivered.

The project helped to foster increased trust in and access to forecasts by participating farmers groups in Kenya, and enabled those groups to take forecast-based decisions which would otherwise have been uninformed by the weather and climate information available. In Kenya, the KMD tailored weekly updates for districts in KiSwahili, via an SMS platform. These were used to inform agricultural activities such as weeding, application of fertilizer and harvesting in Kenya’s participating farmers groups, while seasonal forecasts have been employed to inform decisions on crop type. A majority of participating farmers attributed a greater than 15% increase in crop output to the use of the forecasts. There have been positive signs of the continued use of forecast information – for example, those communities have begun to invest their own finances to ensure they receive forecasts, and contacted the designated forecast provider when the information was delayed.

In Senegal, participating communities employed seasonal forecasts to inform crop selection, and short-term flood forecasts to inform decisions on when to travel, undertake agricultural activities, keep children and frail members of the community at home, and protect livelihood assets, including livestock. An increase in agricultural output was noted here also.

Related developments since the project’s completion

Learning from this project informed the World Meteorological Organisation’s consultations on developing a Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS). The initiative was also featured within GFCS’s October 2012 publication Climate ExChange as the chapter Making climate science useful: cross regional learning from Kenya and Senegal, by Emma Visman and project partners.

In the year following the completion of this pilot project, DFID-Kenya supported an Adaptation Consortium aiming to reach almost 3 million people across 5 arid and semi-arid counties in the period 2013-16. Coordinated by the IIED, consortium members include Christian Aid, Kenya Meteorological Services, UK Met Office, University of Sussex and the HFP at King’s College London, among other partners. Many of these partners were involved in implementing the CDKN-supported work, and are together driving the climate information services element for the consortium. They aim to support the development of weather and climate information which can better support short and medium-term decision making within county government planning and amongst at risk groups. According to the project partners, the approaches and partnerships developed through the CDKN-funded pilot studies were instrumental to developing this element of the consortium’s work, which builds directly on the project’s experience.

Evidence and learning from the project was incorporated in an ODI Humanitarian Practice Network Paper by Emma Visman, published in January 2014, titled Knowledge is power: Unlocking the potential for science and technology to enhance community resilience through knowledge exchange. The Paper drew on a series of case studies across regions, disciplines and sectors, including the these Kenyan and Senegalese projects, to identify learning and key characteristics regarding the forms of knowledge exchange which have resulted in tangible benefits for at-risk people. The case studies were highlighted in guidelines for integrating science into humanitarian and development planning and practice, developed by Melanie Duncan at University College London and published in January 2014, which are available on the UKCDS website. Learning from this project was also incorporated in a CCAFS report on good practice for scaling up climate services for farmers, by Arame Tall and others and published in 2014.

Several of the project partners  – Christian Aid, UK Met Office, and King’s College London – are now involved in delivering two projects under the Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme. A project titled Supporting communities in Ethiopia to overcome the negative impact of climate change is working with the Ethiopian National Meteorology Agency and other partners, and improving access to reliable climate information through the use of text messaging and public service announcements on local radio stations is one of its principle aims. Another project in Burkina Faso, titled Zaman Lebidi: Strengthening resilience to adapt to the effects of climate change, is working with Burkina Meteo and other partners and similarly aims to improve access to reliable climate information. These projects run until January 2018.

Outputs and Resources

The research was published in the academic journal Disasters in December 2014:

Kniveton D., Visman E., Tall A., Diop M., Ewbank R., Njoroge E., and Pearson L (2014) Dealing with uncertainty: integrating local and scientific knowledge of the climate and weather, Disasters vol. 39(1).

The Senegal case study was covered by the second issue of Climate and Development Outlook: Stories of change from CDKN, in February 2012.

Enhancing Resilience Through Dialogue: Bridging gaps between providers and users of science appeared in Issue 45 of, in June 2012.

The chapter Making climate science useful: cross regional learning from Kenya and Senegal, written by the project team, was included in the Global Framework for Climate Services publication Climate ExChange, October 2012 (page 222).

Reports of the Kenyan and Senegalese case studies are also available.

Humanitarian Futures released this video documenting how they are working to close the gap between climate scientists and communities in Kaffrine, Senegal.

Talking Science, Talking Sense from Humanitarian Futures Programme on Vimeo.

To view this video in Wolof, click here.

A Farmer’s Forecast (English) from Humanitarian Futures Programme on Vimeo.

Lead: Emma Visman (Humanitarian Futures Programme)

CDKN Funding: £122,000

Regions/Countries: Kenya, Senegal

Photo courtesy of UUSC. 

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