Water for Food

University of Nebraska researcher champions drought management in Africa

December 15, 2016


Faculty Fellow Tsegaye Tadesse, research associate professor of applied climatology and remote sensing expert, University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Natural Resources and the National Drought Mitigation Center.

By Nam Tran, intern

Tsegaye Tadesse’s life revolves around helping people prepare for drought.

Tadesse, a research associate professor of applied climatology and remote sensing expert in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources and the National Drought Mitigation Center, is dedicated to making a difference in the lives of others by informing them about drought risk management and preparedness — particularly in Africa, where there is great vulnerability to water and food insecurity.

Tadesse earned a degree in physics from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, his original home country. That was in 1982, a period when drought was having a devastating impact around him.

“I wanted to help, so I pursued atmospheric physics and studied meteorology,” he said.

Tadesse went on to Strasbourg, France, where he received a master’s degree in space studies, then to Nebraska, where he became a graduate student in 1998 under NDMC founder Don Wilhite and earned a doctorate in agrometeorology.

Through research, Tadesse wanted to improve people’s understanding of drought, and in particular, to help decision-makers be more proactive, rather than rely on crisis management.

In his current research at the NDMC and as a Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute Faculty Fellow, Tadesse focuses on developing drought monitoring and prediction tools by using satellite data, climate data, biophysical parameters, land cover, land use, soil and elevation. He hopes people can use these tools to make more informed decisions that will reduce drought’s harmful effects on economic sectors, communities and ecosystems.

Recently, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations invited Tadesse to consult and develop a white paper on drought risk management and resilience for all of Africa. He helped lead a team of experts to draft the white paper, building on the work of other University of Nebraska researchers, and presented it to African ministers at the first ever African Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia, Aug. 15-19, 2016.

“We helped put all the national and international experts together and presented it to the ministers so we could convince them to invest in proactive drought risk management to reduce Africa’s vulnerability to drought,” he said. “In Africa, the impact of drought is huge, costing millions of lives for long historical periods.”

Food security is one of the biggest challenges in Africa, said Tadesse.

“Drought shouldn’t cause hunger if we are prepared,” Tadesse said. “Because drought is a normal recurring phenomenon, we advocate being prepared in this strategic framework — and for that, we need a political commitment.”

The ministers approved the plan, formally titled the “Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa,” which proposes a drought resilient and prepared Africa (DRAPA).

“We are trying to help them move through a paradigm shift from crisis management to a more proactive drought risk management,” he said.

Addressing drought-related issues is more important now than ever, said Tadesse. It’s especially important because drought is expected to increase in frequency in the future. This, along with increasing population in Africa, means that drought will continue to have negative impacts in Africa and elsewhere.

The framework is based on the three pillars of drought management established by WFI Faculty Fellow Wilhite and other experts in the NDMC’s integrated drought management program highlighting the development of national drought policies:

  1. Drought monitoring and early warning
  2. Drought vulnerability and risk assessment
  3. Drought preparedness, mitigation and response

Also included is a 10-Step Drought Planning Process, first published by Wilhite in early 1990s, which is mainly based on the activities that the center has been doing since 1995.

Tadesse and the other multi-disciplinary experts at the NDMC work to leverage Nebraska’s knowledge and experience to help the nation and the world, a main objective of the WFI, but there is also much to learn from others.

“We learn a lot from Africa,” said Tadesse. “It is important for them to help us understand the issue of drought from their perspectives, learning from their experience and ways of coping.”

Gaining approval from the African ministers was the first big step, said Tadesse. The next steps are to secure the financial resources to implement the plan and tailoring it for individual countries – no easy feat.

The African Union should have the political commitment and leadership to implement this strategic document, otherwise as is, it’s nothing, he said.

Learn more about the “Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa.

Read more about the conference and Tadesse’s other research projects.

African ministers approved the “Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa” at the first African Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

African ministers approved the “Strategic Framework for Drought Risk Management and Enhancing Resilience in Africa” at the first African Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

Tsegaye Tadesse presents the drought risk management proposal at the first African Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.

Tsegaye Tadesse presents the drought risk management proposal at the first African Drought Conference in Windhoek, Namibia.


 
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