Use drought assessment index that values social factors

Visit to farmer villages outside of Dodoma, Tanzania
Visit to farmer villages, a farmer transporting water to his farm. Copyright: C. Schubert/CCAFS,CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Speed read

  • Conventional drought risk assessments fail to account for socio-economic factors
  • But a new index created using data from Angola and Namibia considers socio-economic factors
  • African researchers and governments should consider refining the index to help address droughts

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[ACCRA] An index for assessing drought risk that considers socio-economic and environmental vulnerabilities could help African researchers and governments create right disaster prevention interventions, experts say.

According to experts, although drought threatens millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially those who are poor, conventional risk assessments largely fail to account for socio-economic vulnerabilities.

But a project implemented in Angola and Namibia as part of the Southern African Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management has aided the creation of a blended drought index that incorporates weather and farming conditions that impair a population’s ability to have increased food and water security.

“It will be good for development practitioners and researchers to use it to ascertain the robustness of the model before promoting its scale-up.”

Maxwell Amedi, World Vision International, Ghana

“With the new framework developed, it will be good for development practitioners and researchers to use it to ascertain the robustness of the model before promoting its scale-up,” says Maxwell Amedi, food security and resilience technical programme manager of the World Vision International in Ghana, in an interview with SciDev.Net last week (25 June).

Amedi, who was not involved in creating the index, praises its developers, adding that that the new tool broadens the scope of drought assessment in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Robert Luetkemeier, a research scientist at Germany-based Institute for Social-Ecological Research, who led the team that developed the tool, tells SciDev.Net that they combined relevant drought   indicators including soil moisture and vegetation conditions to form a single indicator that identifies areas that are exposed to droughts.

“We assumed that if a household is highly vulnerable (socio-economic side) and lives in a drought-threatened area (environmental side), the resulting drought risk is pretty high,” says Luetkemeier adding that the study started in April 2013 and ended in October 2017 although analyses continued until mid-2018.

According to the study’s policy brief published on the website of the Institute for Social-Ecological Research last month, the index “provides a well-founded methodological framework that can be transferred to other countries and problem contexts”.

The policy brief adds that populations living around the Cuvelai basin at the border between the Cunene province in Angola and the northern regions of Namibia are prone to frequent droughts, thus enabling the research team to focus on the two countries to aid comparisons.

“The most important difference between the two countries is particularly the availability of reliable water infrastructure. In Namibia, there is a tap [water] network in the villages, which people utilise as a backup resource,” says Luetkemeier. “In Angola, people have to rely on water sources that quickly become contaminated during the dry season and they have to use this water for all domestic purposes.”

According to Luetkemeier, the narrative that droughts mainly impair food availability and lead to famine needs to change because negative socio-economic impacts could also occur.

“People told us that during drought periods, water quantity and quality decline, with negative health impacts, financial constraints, social conflicts and even crimes in the communities,” Luetkemeier explains.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.


Integrated responses to drought risk in Namibia and Angola (Institute for Social-Ecological Research, June 2019)