How geoscientists help strengthen food and water security in Africa

In 2021, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi. Idai was one of the most powerful cyclones to hit the southern hemisphere in two decades. Food and water insecurity connected to extreme events like cyclones, droughts, and floods, can force entire communities and regional populations to be displaced. Such population movements are evident in agriculture-dependent locations like Ghana in western Africa.

How can applied geosciences help solve the population displacement problem within the global climate crisis and increase access to reliable sources for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and food systems? Action on displacement in Africa is focused on rebuilding food security, water systems, and livelihoods where applied geosciences can play a significant role.

According to a recent study, Africa has a current rate of access to urban sanitation of less than 50%, and its population is projected to surpass 1.3 billion people by 2050. Here lies an enormous potential to improve lives through investing in developing and implementing critical water infrastructure projects and water management measures. Africa is estimated to require investments of US$55–66 billion per year for WASH infrastructure. This presents a challenge; however, at the same time is also an opportunity for low-cost innovative solutions such as locally sourced hardware and open source software to solve critical needs of the communities like access to potable water. 

GWB’s efforts in solving the challenge and providing food and water security:

Some five million people live in the greater Lake Tanganyika watershed and face extreme poverty, disease, and the effects of environmental degradation associated with unregulated development. Communities along the shores of Lake Tanganyika are dependent on fish, both for sustenance and generating income. GWB’s first-ever habitat management project in Tanzania formed the framework for defining small, protected zones that will secure the health and productivity of the littoral fishery.

In continuing with the efforts to provide local solutions, GWB’s ongoing project aims to improve the productivity of Lake Tanganyika’s fishery in Zambia. Securing food resources and improving the health of thousands of villagers in the vicinity of the Nsumbu Tanganyika Conservation Project co-management area is one way GWB is helping achieve this goal. The project team uses applied geosciences techniques to provide a scientific foundation for defining coastal “no-catch” zones that local villagers will monitor and maintain, allowing the health and productivity of fish stocks to recover.

By helping build more resilient and sustainable systems- for both water and food security, GWB is continuing to contribute to this effort. Combining local solutions with data tracking and monitoring systems presents a pathway for the African continent to effectively implement these and other food and water security solutions locally. 

By Pallavi Bharadwaj, GWB Program Manager