A Climate (in need) of Interdisciplinarity – Exploring interdisciplinary responses to the impacts of climate change in Southern Africa

It’s June 2013, I’m in a village in Zambia on fieldwork for my masters. The rainy season should have just passed, refreshing the soil, turning the mopani woodland from brown to green, filling up the river for the livestock to quench their thirst, replenishing the aquifer for the villagers to quench theirs, washing away the eggs of destructive army worms, nourishing the maize crop to feed the family for the year ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAInstead, the rains came in a dribble, not a torrent: the mopani remains brown, the soil sandy and grey. The river (pictured right) is bone-dry, goats and cows loiter around the village borehole, licking in vain at the tap meant for human use. The maize is starved of water, the army worms have been rampant, their eggs spared by the drought. The crops are devastated, livelihoods are ruined.

Flash forward to March 2016, I’m in another village, this time in Malawi. This time it’s the opposite scenario, heavy, late rains have turned the local river into a torrent, just over a year after floods tore through the small, Southern African nation. The river cascades out of the hills, a chocolatey-brown colour, thick from all the sediment it has collected upstream. It speeds through a previously straightened meander before swinging round the subsequent, unnaturally tight corner further downstream and pounds into the outside bank. The torrent eats its way into invaluable agricultural land.

These two examples demonstrate just some of the incredibly complex array of processes and interactions that drive the impacts of climate change in Southern Africa. The impact doesn’t just stop with increasingly extreme droughts and floods, but includes land management practices, river management, agricultural practices, biological processes, health, hygiene, livelihoods, and, ultimately, people’s lives. Attempts to manage such complex challenges require the input of a wide range of different stakeholders from across different sectors. Over the next two months, the Facing the Future blog will explore the topic of interdisciplinarity in managing the impacts of climate change in Southern Africa. In next month’s post, we’ll feature insights from academics and practitioners working in this area, we’ll then open up the topic for comment and discussion. Then in June, we’ll put together a summary of what we’ve found on interdisciplinary action on the impacts of climate change in Southern Africa.

We’ll also be discussing interdisciplinary approaches to climate change adaptation at this year’s Facing the Future conference: Realising Resilience on 30th May – 1st June. Spaces are still available, so get yourself booked in at http://www.dundee.ac.uk/cechr/postgraduates/ftf16/

Thanks for reading and see you next month!

Sam

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