From global models to local decisions

Jon Padgam, Deputy Director of START, reflects on the challenges and opportunities for linking climate information on Africa with user needs

The changing nature of climate variability and increasing extremes pose a notable threat to sustainable development where there is a high risk of exposure to climate stress. Understanding vulnerability and potential impacts, and responding through adaptation decisions and policy, requires climate information that is defensible, scale relevant and tailored to user needs. Unfortunately, the present state of regional climate change prediction presents the user with a confusing array of data sources that are contradictory and delivered with minimal understanding of what is robust and defensible data, or on how to interpret and apply it to decision making. This state of affairs undermines the value of development actions seeking to reduce risk, while increasing the risk of maladaptation.

The growth of new multi-model and multi-method data sets, most notably through the World Climate Research Program’s CORDEX initiative, offers a new opportunity to address the challenge of regional scale information. The central aim of CORDEX-Africa, which is led by the University of Cape Town’s Climate Systems Analysis Group in partnership with START, is to promote data analysis from a regionally based user’s needs perspective by regional climate scientists in collaboration with users of climate data. This approach provides direction to the modeling community as to which climate parameters are useful for decision making in different contexts, and therefore have potential for uptake. It also affords a transformative opportunity for capacity building in developing nations, by training the early career scientists to partner with end-users of climate information for co-exploration of the data to the mutual benefit of both communities.

The climate data co-exploration approach was tested through a workshop held in Dar es Salaam in February 2013 that sought to develop a guidance framework for using climate model data to support adaptation planning in Africa. The main purpose of this workshop was to pilot the methodology together with interdisciplinary teams from Addis Ababa, Kampala, Dar es Salaam, Maputo and Lusaka. The participants for this event were technical experts in the areas of meteorology and climatology, agriculture, water resource management, disaster risk management and land-use planning, within government, university and non-government spheres. The climate-application focus of the workshop was on peri-urban areas of these five cities, which typify the intensive land-use change pressures from urban encroachment that African cities are facing. These pressures have implications for, among others, food production, water resources and flood risk management for cities.

The learning process for integrating climate data into decision making took place through the development of a vulnerability matrix that encompassed non-climatic and climatic stressors acting on important ‘exposure units’ in peri-urban areas, such as crop and livestock production, inland fisheries, informal trading, transport corridors and other critical infrastructure, and water supplies… Click here to keep reading

For more information on the CDKN-supported project, visit the project page

Catalysts of Change: Stories of community disaster risk reduction in India

India has been experiencing increasing incidences of hydro-meteorological disasters that defy trends. Flash floods in Barmer in the western arid region of India (2006) and in Leh in the northern mountain desert (2010) have underlined the impending climate and disaster threats in fragile ecosystems.

Based on the research and field practice experience of the investigators, the START-CDKN project “Catalysts of Change” studied the effectiveness of Local Multi-Stakeholder Action in Leh and Barmer, India, as an enabling factor for mainstreaming DRR- CCA in post disaster programs and ultimately in state and national policies. It assessed the impact of consolidation of local change agents, their enablement through knowledge tools, and their strategic actions as an institution as enablers for shift in long term recovery programmes and state and national policy environment towards linking DRR and CCA and mainstreaming them in development processes.

SEEDS India and Saferworld invite you to view two films on the case study communities and local projects in Leh and Barmer.

In addition, the investigators prepared community radio programmes in Rajasthan, which were aired through the local government radio station. The radio programmes are in the local language and can be found at

For more information on Catalysts of Change, visit their website at

Advancing Knowledge for Action on Global Environmental Change: Reflecting on Progress and Strategizing for the Future

START is very pleased to announce the release of its 10-year strategic plan.


This document describes exciting areas of future growth for START related to strengthening and expanding trans-disciplinary and multi-sectoral expertise in integrated research and assessment; promoting effective communication between communities of research, policy and practice; and, supporting efforts by universities in Africa and Asia-Pacific to inform and engage society in creating more resilient development trajectories.

This document also highlights important START accomplishments over the last 20 years in the areas of fostering innovation in research- driven capacity building; creating space for exchange and collaboration; promoting communication at the interface of science, policy and practice; and partnering with universities to develop creative learning pathways.

Executive Director Hassan Virji talks about START and introduces the new strategy document.

Introducing START’s strategy for the next decade from Abby Gwaltney on Vimeo.

START mourns loss of Jyoti Kulkarni

The International START Secretariat is sad to share the news that our former staff member, Jyoti Kulkarni, has lost her battle with cancer.

Jyoti Kulkarni was the administrator of START’s program on biodiversity conservation and climate change in the Albertine Rift region of Eastern Africa. Jyoti’s dedication to that program resulted in it expanding from a skills based training program for biodiversity practitioners to one that encompassed both practitioners and regional universities.

Jyoti’s passion for promoting research on global environmental change and building capacity in developing countries continues to inspire us in our work. Jyoti is fondly remembered for her warm cheerfulness, bountiful sense of humor, and calm patience. She is dearly missed.

Key research lessons about mainstreaming climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in South Asia

Learning Forum participants identify next steps and ways forward for continued engagement in research on disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

There is little doubt that climate change will increase disasters throughout South Asia thus requiring long-term climate change adaptation (CCA) informing and integrating with disaster risk reduction (DRR) through planning and response. Mainstreaming of CCA and DRR is increasingly on the forefront of policy discussions for disaster management, yet action on this integration is lagging. Six research projects from India, Pakistan, and Nepal addressed this challenge by discussing and synthesizing their research results during the CDKN+START Learning Forum in early February.

The co-investigators from the six research projects at the event explored the research findings and experiences with a focus on three themes:

1. Institutional arrangement and government structures that influence the degree of flexibility of DRR across varying scales

2. The changing nature of systemic development factors (both endogenous and exogenous) that shape vulnerability to disaster

3. Policy innovations that promote convergence of DRR and CCA into policy and practice at varying scales

Through engaging and dynamic conversations, the group observed several notable key lessons about mainstreaming CCA and DRR from the local to regional scales in South Asia.

Advocating for mainstreaming has not beget action
Whether researchers, practitioners, community members, or policymakers, we are advocating for mainstreaming climate change into policies and actions related to disaster management. However, the co-investigators asserted that words rarely turn to action, or at least only slowly. The six research projects explored the possibilities of mainstreaming CCA into DRR from the community scale to national policy. SEEDS India worked with communities in Rajasthan and Ladakh to develop community-based monitoring of weather to prepare for and understand disasters from flood, drought, and changing temperatures. While Intercooperation Social Development India (ICSD) and All India Disaster Mitigation Institute (AIDMI) shared their research results on climate smart disaster management with national and state government bodies, such as the National Disaster Management Agency.

It’s about planning, not only response
When a disaster strikes, there is always response, but that can be ad-hoc and disorganized, and use human and financial resource poorly. With the increasing pressures of climate change, disaster management requires planning rather than dependence on post-disaster management. Such planning involves working across vertical and horizontal scales and across sectors to better prepare for, anticipate, and manage possible disasters. Based on their case study of flooding in Gorakphur, the Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group (GEAG) and Institute for Social and Environmental Transition (ISET) developed a training module for disaster managers and planners which will be used across districts nationwide.

Who does the planning?
While it’s about planning, the details are quite unclear. What sector should be involved in mainstreaming and planning; all sectors or does that dilute responsibility? What scale should do the planning? Who are the intermediaries between communities and national policies that can implement plans? The research teams were left with more questions than answers reflecting the successes and challenges of their case study research. Research by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Darjeeling and Sikkim revealed the importance of place-based management given different socio-political and ecological contexts. The varied contexts require coordination across a range of stakeholders, including traditional local administrative bodies (dzumsa), district government, and NGOs.

Data and information challenges
Even if plans are being developed, data to support robust decisions may not be available, transparent, and shared. WWF Pakistan used an analysis of productivity loss to inform policy on fisheries and livestock sectors related to pre- and post-disaster and recovery after flooding in Manchar Lake and Chotiari. The National Disaster Risk Institute (NDMI) in Nepal used hydro-meterological modeling and a socio-economic vulnerability assessment to provide policy recommendations on the establishment of a dam in the Koshi River basin. However, even if the data is available, disaster managers need to be comfortable with the data to enable informed action. The researchers explained the challenges to communicate effectively to inform policy decisions at any scale.

Networks for action
The co-investigators of the six research projects identified their unique contributions to the discussion and implementation of mainstreaming DRR and CCA at multiple horizontal and vertical scales. In the two-day workshop, participants advocated for the creation of a task force and network for action to support engagement between researchers and policy makers on DRR and CCA issues across South Asia. A network provides a platform for upscaling the research lessons.

The clarity in which the six research projects identified the challenges of mainstreaming CCA and DRR suggest the enormous possibility and need for continued research. Yet translating research into action necessitates timely and succinct communication and engagement with policy makers at all scales. This continues to be a challenge worth confronting to translate these key lessons and questions into policy and decision making.

Shuaib Lwasa: A Worldview of Urban Nature that includes “Runaway” Cities

Shuaib Lwasa is a Lecturer in the department of geography at Makerere University. He was the recipient of a 2011-12 Grant for Global Environmental Change Research in Africa (click here to read more about his project: The Role of Urban and Peri-Urban Agriculture in Enhancing Food Security and Climate Change Resilience in East and West African Cities), and a recent participant at the Cities at Risk – Africa Workshop held in Durban in March, 2013. Shuaib has over 14 years of teaching and international research experience working on inter-disciplinary research. Recent works are in the fields of urban environmental management, spatial planning in with special interest in livelihood systems, vulnerability to global environmental change, disaster risk management and sustainable urban development. Recent publications topics include adaptation to climate change, land and property rights, land use and land cover change, vulnerability assessment, resource efficiency and spatial planning and sustainable urban development. Shuaib coordinates the Habitat Universities (H UNI) climate change and disaster risk management Hub. He has participated on international panels focused on urbanization and environmental change with a focus on Africa’s urbanization.

A Worldview of Urban Nature that includes “Runaway” Cities

This article presents an alternative perspective on urban nature that extends the debates on ecology in cities to ecology of cities. In Africa, and particularly Kampala, where we have undertaken research on various aspects of urban development, we are increasingly confronted by a realization that urban built up components are only conveniently “detached” from the urban nature on which these sit. In fact the combination of the built up and urban ecosystems is creating a unique urban form that is a fusion of interacting parts of the city as whole. Cities in other parts of the world that have benefited from long standing planning have the urban form which, to a degree, separates built up from nature areas as nature parks and recreation areas (Grimm et al. 2008). The design and planning has also reserved multi-purpose green parks, as seen in recent urban development, to respond to the environmental change challenges. In contrast, cities in Africa, as is the case of Kampala, can be described as ‘runaway’ cities by nature of the sprawl and fragmentation of natural ecosystem interwoven with built up land. This is a different worldview of urban nature with implications on how to maintain ecosystem functions.

In Kampala, there is evidence of continuous interactions and influences between built-environment and the natural components to form a unique urban fabric. This worldview helps us to understanding the urban system interactions at various scales. Our understanding of how the built environment components interact with nature on which it sits is key in addressing the challenges of urban management, and there is critical importance in sustaining some level of ecosystems functions of provisioning, regulating and supporting services (Shuaib Lwasa et al. 2009). The speed of urbanization in Africa is characterized by, among other things, the degradation and reduction in ecosystem services within urban areas. This dilemma is felt in Kampala where ecosystem services are dwindling due to land competitions for development.

The challenge is that the city is extending further into the rural hinterland… Click here to keep reading

Catalysing Communication on Barmer’s Changing Climate

Girls from a remote desert village in Barmer, Western India, are stepping out with microphones in their hands to run a community radio programme on local issues under the CDKN-START programme being implemented by SEEDS-India. They are finding that a large number of local hardships get worse due to climate variability, but are also realizing that local action is important key.
Photo: SEEDS, by Sarika Gulati

Microphones in hand, twelve teenage girls from two remote villages in Barmer, Western Rajasthan, stepped out into the community; many for the first time. With budding confidence, these girls, aged 12-18, will help develop content for short radio programmes. “It was the first time that we had travelled outside our village,” several girls commented. “It gave us a sense of confidence and we even interviewed the school principal!” Supported by local NGOs, the girls’ group hopes to transmit information both within the community and to the outside world.

The pilot community radio group is part of a SEEDS-led and START-CDKN supported research project in the area. It is being piloted in partnership with the NGO UNNATI, active in the area and able to provide sustainability to the initiative. Field insights highlighted the need for better awareness on climate change risks and possible solutions. Such radio programmes can provide the platform for issues, debates and messages; including on government schemes that many people are unable to access.

This need is acute and growing. One of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, arid Western Rajasthan also has some of the lowest human development indexes in India. Low adaptive capacities and a rigid caste system put many government schemes and essential services out of reach for some communities. Any improvements are sharply impacted every time a drought strikes. And, unfortunately, droughts are common in this region. In the recent past, extreme weather events such as flash floods and destructive windstorms have also wreaked havoc.

“Radio programmes, TV and newspapers cover issues of Jodhpur, New Delhi and the world, but not our issues. Community programmes are a chance to share our views and things that matter to us; to actually make people listen. Such radio will make our government accountable and help us share knowledge.”
- Local Dalit leader and father of one of the girls in the programme

Climate change studies for Rajasthan predict that temperatures will rise while mean precipitation will fall over time. On the other hand, extreme precipitation is likely to increase in both intensity and frequency. This will not only augment the risk of dangerous flash floods, but will degrade the soil and make ground water recharge difficult. A rise in famines, vector borne diseases and malnutrition could be a result. What will this mean for a community whose very survival is dependent on its land? As Ganpatji, an NGO worker and community mobiliser commented, “We are connected to the earth, water and land in a way that if anything changes; our lives are deeply affected.”

This effect is already visible. In one village, farmers talk about how two distinct rainy seasons were common, allowing for two cropping cycles. Now, the August rains are happening way before time and they are losing crops. Yet, they are unable to find a solution. The general emphasis on weather-based insurance schemes and promotion of perennial farming by the government (much more water and labour intensive) is only complicating matters further. Therefore, moving away from heavy dependence on water-intensive agriculture to more animal husbandry and related dairy production could be beneficial.

In another village, the community relocated to a higher plain after the devastating 2006 flash floods. The topography of the villages is a saucer-like shape, with surrounding dunes protecting them from the hot desert winds. During the unprecedented floods this turned out to be a curse, since water inundated the habitations and stayed for weeks due to the impervious gypsum deposits below the sand. Subsequently the reconstructed houses were built atop the dunes, and now not only are the families exposed to the hot winds and sandstorms, but the women walk longer in the searing heat to get water when their hilltop wells filled by weekly camel carts run dry. They don’t know when a flood will come again; but, in the meantime, they suffer a disaster every day. More in-depth studies are required to understand the potential risks from flash floods and to identify natural drainage pathways, preventing the creation of more such villages.

At the same time, the vast traditional knowledge on weather patterns and strategies such as common property can be seen slowly eroding. These are important strategies to revive. Especially where scientific data is lacking, observed patterns and changes could augment understanding. Common land can prove beneficial in terms of local vegetation during droughts, increase social capital and conserve water resources. Meeting these challenges will require concerted efforts at the local, district and state level, with a catalysing role played by local multi-stakeholder action.

The crucial need for better understanding and more robust adaptation and response plans is underscored by the current reality. As of April 2013, 12 districts in Rajasthan are reeling under a drought. It brings back the words of a farmer in Navatala. “This village was known as ‘kala dal’ (the dark space),” he had lamented. “It was dry and barren and we suffered a lot. Whenever a drought strikes again, we will fall back into that.”

Experiential Learning for Adaptation: Facilitation cards for adventurous practitioners

Experiential Learning about Climate Change Adaptation
Climate Change Adaptation is a challenging and complex field – and can at times be very confusing. Sometimes this confusion leads to simplified messages which may scare people or lead to frustration and fatalism. None of these feelings are particularly helpful to promote active participation and agency or to release the creativity we need to think about creative and constructive adaptation strategies.

A deck of flash cards was created by Indigo development & change that comprises a collection of short exercises that practitioners can use in practice as appropriate to create spaces and interactions that generate energy and creativity, and to allow participants to explore climate change challenges experientially. There are many different ways to include these exercises in ongoing processes such as workshops, team meetings or study groups. Your creativity is the most vital ingredient in this process – so we hope you can take some inspiration form these cards to design and facilitate creative adaptation learning processes!

Facilitating Experiential Learning Processes
When facilitating experiential learning processes it is important to find the “magic mix” of providing a safe space and creating enough opportunities for individuals in the group to explore new experiences, arrive at new personal reflections and share insights. This might mean different styles and tolerance for exploring new aspects in different groups.

Because all people are unique and have unique experiences, every group will be different and have a different dynamic. As the facilitator the challenge is yours: keeping in touch with the group processes is important. The process should provide enough excitement to get the imagination going, while always providing a safe and respectful space for learning for all participants – regardless of gender, race, age or status.

Some of the exercises are more challenging than others – you will find the rating of the exercises in the top bar:
★ Easy exercises, gentle, not too daring or adventurous
★★ Somewhat challenging, needs careful facilitation, check if this is appropriate for the group
★★★ Challenging, needs skilled facilitation, are the most adventurous, can be challenging for some groups and individuals

This is the first edition of the Experiential Learning for Adaptation Cards. Using these cards in practice is sure to bring forth ideas for additions or improvements. Indigo development & change would appreciate your feedback, comments, new ideas, creative inputs and critical reflections. Please share your feedback with us:

Source for cards: Koelle, B. et al: Experiential Learning for Adaptation – facilitation cards for adventurous practitioners, Indigo development & change, Cape Town, 2012.

These cards are a joint effort of the Indigo facilitation team working with various partners, especially with the Environmental Monitoring Group and the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Climate Centre and the Mechal project team. We would like to thank CDKN and the Volkswagen Foundation for financial support.

This work / thesis was financially supported by the Volkswagen Stiftung (reference number 1/83 735).

This piece is in part the result of a research grant to the Red Cross / Red Crescent Climate Centre and START from the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN Action Lab Innovation Fund). As such, it is an output from a project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and the Netherlands Directorate-General for International Cooperation (DGIS) for the benefit of developing countries. However, the views expressed and information contained in it are not necessarily those of or endorsed by DFID, DGIS or the entities managing the delivery of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network, which can accept no responsibility or liability for such views, completeness or accuracy of the information or for any reliance placed on them.

Cultivating Fields of Change: Collaborative Learning Through Research

In 2011-12, START supported 16 multi-disciplinary research teams across Africa to conduct research on climate change, agriculture and food security, with an emphasis on the sustainability of ecosystem services. Cultivating Fields of Change: Collaborative Learning Through Research brings each of these projects together, highlighting stories, research findings and recommendations to strengthen future research and communication efforts.

For more information about the Grants for Environmental Change Research program, please visit

Click within the box below to view full screen, or click here to download.

Humanitarian Appeal: Changthang Snowfall and Livestock Loss Crisis

By Vijayalakshmi Viswanathan of SEEDS / Saferworld Communications

Photo courtesy to Changthang Emergency Response Group

Photo courtesy to Changthang Emergency Response Group

“In another two decades, this custom will die unless we improve their socio-economic and living conditions. They try and do things for themselves, but they cannot win against nature.”
-Dr. Muhammad Sharif, District Sheep Husbandry Officer, Leh

The Changpas

The high altitude plains of Changthang, Eastern Ladakh, are home to a nomadic tribe called the Changpas. For generations, they have lived in harmony with the land. Their intricate multi-dimensional pastoral system is centered around livestock. The Changpas rear yaks, horses and sheep, in addition to their famous changra ‘pashmina’ goats. The region produces around 40,000 kgs of pashmina every year. It also supplies butter, meat and wool for the Ladakh region.

The Invisible Disaster of 2012-13

Over the three months between mid-December and mid-March, there were four major heavy snow falls; a record for the region. In fact, it snowed consecutively between January 18th and February 3rd. The winter pastures were totally covered with blankets of snow. Usually, the wind would blow away enough snow that parts of the pastures could be accessed within 5-6 days. Livestock could survive this amount of time without food. However, this winter, the snow was packed down so heavily that there was no access to the pastures at all. The plummeting temperatures only added to the crisis.

January and February are the key months both for pashmina hair growth and birthing. Both goats and sheep require extra food at this time. Unfortunately, starvation meant that almost 90% of the young were stillborn or died. Around 40,000 livestock (goats and sheep) have perished, as well as several hundred horses, yaks and other wild mammals.*

The Changthang region encompasses two blocks of Leh district – Nyoma and Durbuk. Twenty villages across the region were affected. The greatest impact was on places like Tegajung, Samad and Kharnak.

Stanzin Dorjai Gya of Himalayan Film House and Saferworld Communications (with the support of Live to Love, SEEDS and RDY) have documented the local impact of the disaster and a short video

Voices from Changthang

“I was back in Tegajung on school vacation. It was the first time I ever seen such a big snow. We never used to sleep, but just kept cleaning the snow from the corrals. Yet, in the end we had no food to give them and around 50-60 of our sheep and goats died.” – Chimit Tolkar, 16 years old and student at the Nomadic Residential School, Puga

“Over these 3 winter months, we have lived through extreme difficulties, no less than a nightmare. At times we feared for our own lives and there was little we could do for our livestock. There was little fuel wood and dung, as most of it had got wet… I have never witnessed such a harsh winter in all my life.” – Meme Urgain Tuktsa, 73 years old and herder in Korzok

“Until you have some snow, you cannot expect any greenery or a beautiful summer. So some snow is a must. But we never dreamed it would come like this. It got to the point where we couldn’t feed our animals or ourselves. We lost around 15% of our flock this year.” – Lundup Gyatso, Sarpanch, Samad Rockchan

Discussions with affected communities across the region revealed a variety of needs:

  • Fodder and feed banks containing pre-stocked fodder around every wintering pasture
  • Canvas/ tarpaulin cover for their corrals. This should be wind and water proof, yet light enough to be carried with them on the move. This will help avoid the freezing and loss of livestock in harsh winters
  • Solar-oriented human shelters for all wintering herder camps, where they spend up to four months
  • Good quality windproof and waterproof tents
  • Gum boots, goggles, thick jackets, heavy sleeping bags, solar lanterns and torches

These priorities were echoed by both the Executive Councilor of the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council and the District Sheep Husbandry Office.

Call for Support

A consortium of humanitarian and development organisations working in Leh met on May 10th, 2013, in Leh to assess the situation. This was based on preliminary field assessments in Changthang carried out by RDY, Live to Love and local volunteers. SEEDS and RDY (supported by CDKN-START) carried out a further field assessment in the second week of May.
Based on the findings and the joint assessment of local needs, the consortium appeals to the humanitarian sector agencies active in India to come forward and support the people of Changthang in this time of need.
We appeal for immediate action on the following areas:

  • Providing light, water-resistant and windproof tarpaulins to cover their corrals
  • Building fodder banks and feed banks in the most vulnerable winter pasture locations

We also appeal for sustainable medium – term assistance in the following areas:

  • Building solar-oriented human shelters in the most cut-off winter pasturelands
  • Providing support for efficient solar-powered water hand pumps and other devices
  • Working with the government for long-term policy change in this area

Photo courtesy to Changthang Emergency Response Group

For further information:
Padma Tashi
Convener, Changthang Emergency Response Group and
Director, Rural Development and You (RDY)
Mobile: +919419178114, +919622979114

*These figures are based on discussions with government officials and local leaders.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of International START Secretariat.