Increasing capacity for water-related climate adaptation: Identifying opportunities from lessons learned in Ethiopian river basins

Credit for conference photo: Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth



Recently, Future Climate For Africa hosted the African Climate Risks Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme of the conference was dismantling barriers to urgent climate adaptation action. REACH participated by hosting a panel discussion on water-related climate adaptation in Ethiopia and through presenting research on East African rainfall.

Dr Ellen Dyer of REACH hosted a panel discussion centred around understanding opportunities for increased interdisciplinary capacity in water-related climate adaptation in Ethiopia. Dr Dyer wanted to share the REACH project’s experience of working across disciplines by creating a diverse panel that included Ethiopia’s National Meteorological Agency (NMA), its Ministry of Water Irrigation and Energy (MoWIE), and the Awash Basin Development Office (AwBDO). Panellists explored what kind of capacity exists across sectors, institutions, and at the individual level in the context of Ethiopian river basins, and how this affects the use of climate information in water planning.

Several broad themes emerged from the discussion on how to improve capacity to enhance adaptation. One major theme was improving data availability. Panellists highlighted how collaboration between water authorities and meteorological agencies is essential to lessen gaps in data availability. Some users currently have issues with accessing climatological data due to coarse spatial forecast representations and delayed access to forecasts, but meteorologists (NMA) and water experts (MoWIE) recognize the issue and are discussing how to improve data sharing.

Another theme around data was about getting the right type of data to the right users. Tailored hydro-climatic information is necessary, and though it does happen through some case-by-case consultation, this kind of customised information could be scaled up to help different sectors (pastoralists, farmers, dam managers) across East Africa. Forecasts that consider the risks different water users face would also provide better insights into what actions different users should take. Such forecasts would require meteorologists and water practitioners to collaborate more closely on tailored forecasts that respond to different water users’ needs.

Looking into these needs means more collaboration and information exchange between the water and climate sectors. For example, the NMA is now focusing on climate modelling and evaluation and on building that capacity in-house. In fact, increased capacity in using of large-scale model projections for resilience planning would benefit all stakeholders in this space because climate resilience planning requires engagement from all basin sectors from the local to national level.

For example, the Awash River Basin in Ethiopia is a basin of extremes, with flood and drought management historically being the primary concern. Traditionally, the interaction between water and meteorological sectors have revolved around short-term forecasts but that is not enough for long-term resilience planning. More climate information and tighter regulations across sectors like industry and agriculture is needed for water allocation planning and projections under climate change. These changes can only happen with better data availability, more customised data for various water users, and better capacity to engage on this topic for all users. These gaps are ones that REACH hopes to be able to assist with in the future.






REACH is leading research on model projections and evaluation that can assist in this process of capacity building. At the conference, Dr Dyer also presented a poster showcasing REACH’s work on East African model evaluation for the long rains. The REACH team has determined a set of atmospheric diagnostics which they are applying to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5) ensemble of global climate models. Using a combination of diagnostics of moisture fluxes into and out of East Africa, this research underscores the importance of the Indian Ocean and Central Africa on rainfall and how that influence is represented in the models. Such measures of model skill will help inform confidence in future climate projections for East Africa, which can help determine what types of urgent climate adaptation are needed. But models alone are not enough to solve barriers to effective action for climate adaptation and REACH continues to value its interdisciplinary partners and approach to this work.


New insights into the future of water availability in Southern Africa

New research suggests that extreme future drying over southern Africa is an unlikely scenario, but that regional governments should still prepare for a water-stressed future.

By Callum Munday

In the summer of 2015, southern Africa experienced one of its worst droughts on records. Water supply for major cities, including Cape Town (South Africa) and Gabarone (Botswana), was running low; crops had failed; and electricity generation from hydropower was at a minimum. The spectre of climate change loomed large: was this a sign of things to come?

Yes, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s climate models. Ninety-five percent of these models indicate, at least for the early summer season, that southern African rainfall will decline significantly by 2100. Some models project average rainfall declines of close to 100 mm per season—similar to the rainfall anomaly during the summer 2015 drought. If these extreme projections are to be trusted, adaptation to future climate change will need to be fast and effective.

However, climate models are not perfect. Rainfall simulation is a particularly tricky task with longstanding and well documented errors in southern Africa. A key question for climate scientists is whether these errors in model simulations of present-day climate matter for how they project future change.

In a new study in Journal of Climate (Munday and Washington 2019), we address this issue by examining the mechanisms associated with future southern African rainfall/drying changes during the early summer in models. We found broad consensus between models in how they simulate climate change, with the rainfall declines linked to increases in the stability of the southern African atmosphere.

However, by splitting up models into groups according to how much rainfall decreases in the future, we found that models simulating the largest average rainfall declines (close to the 2015 anomalies) contain substantial errors in how they simulate the present day climate. This insight casts doubt on projections of extreme rainfall decreases and suggests that more moderate drying is the more likely scenario1.

Given the effects on southern African society, the evidence that really extreme drying is unlikely is welcome, but there remains a raft of challenges facing regional governments. Temperatures in southern Africa are expected to rise at twice the rate of the global mean, and droughts—when they do happen—could become more intense and prolonged. Preparing for a more water-stressed future, unfortunately, remains a priority for southern Africa.

1Another study which uses a different methodology (Padrón et al., 2019) also concludes that extreme projections of drying over southern Africa are unlikely.

Callum’s research was funded by the UK Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC). It was carried out as part of the Future Climate for Africa UMFULA project, with financial support from the NERC [Grant ref: NE/M020207/1], and the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID).