Researchers from the Strauss Center's Climate Change and African Political Stability (CCAPS) programme, United States, integrated data from areas of climate change vulnerability and active aid-funded projects in Malawi, and mapped this information onto the locations of Malawian conflicts up to 2010.
The result is a dynamic tool that can help policymakers, researchers and aid groups plan for climate change mitigation activities and deliver aid more effectively.
Ashley Moran, CCAPS programme manager, told SciDev.Net that the tool is intended to "provide access to data in a way that allows people in government, civil society and academic institutions to explore the questions on how climate change, conflict, and aid intersect in Africa."
The tool comprises multiple datasets that can be layered to provide answers to a range of questions; for example, whether regions most at risk from climate change are benefiting from aid. It can also be used by policymakers and non-profit organisations to find under-served communities and implement aid projects there – and by the communities themselves to lobby for help.
"This is the first time that we have this kind of dynamic mapping of all donors, sectors of aid, [the] locality of donor-funded projects, and conflicts for any given country," Catherine Weaver, a researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, which hosts the Strauss Center, told SciDev.Net.
Weaver said the tool could also potentially increase donor aid transparency by helping users identify where projects are located.
The researchers plan to make the tool available on government and civil society websites where policymakers and interested stakeholders can access it, she added.
Moran said it was also hoped the mapping tool could be made available through mobile phone applications, to enable users identify where conflicts are occurring in real-time.
Weaver said there are also plans to replicate the tool in Ethiopia, and to train stakeholders elsewhere in Africa to carry out mapping and identify projects with a specific climate change focus. Additional pilots are planned with grassroots communities vulnerable to climate change, to determine whether it is easy for them to access and use.
Joshua Olusegun Bolarinwa, a research fellow with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos, supports the roll-out of the tool across Africa. "Donor aid has a big role to play in managing climate change and conflicts in Africa and we need to know how and where the aid is spent," he said.
But Annabelle Houdret, a scientist with the German Development Institute in Bonn, said linking climate change, aid and conflict was complex, partly because "aid can also trigger conflicts if some people are empowered while others are marginalised".
She also noted that some local climate change adaptation strategies – such as those of a cultural or religious support nature – would be difficult to capture and incorporate into an online mapping tool.