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Business-unusual during the Covid-19 pandemic




May 6, 2020


In early April, about a third of the world’s population was in some form of lockdown as governments ordered businesses, schools and institutions to shut, and issued stay-at-home instructions to citizens in an effort to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. During these business-unusual times, Future Climate for Africa (FCFA) researchers are re-designing their end-of-project plans amidst the uncertainty of not knowing when different countries across Africa will begin lifting lockdown restrictions, allow travel, and gatherings.

Face-to-face meetings have been central to FCFA’s goal of producing climate information that is accessible and useful for the governments, development organisations, and other stakeholders in the African regions where they work. Researchers from within FCFA’s various consortia meet with stakeholders to identify how climate change in South Africa and other African countries might impact on their areas of influence, and then set about a process of developing knowledge, information, and solutions that can be woven into long-term climate-resilient planning.

The intention for much of 2020 was to finalise information-sharing and training by meeting with stakeholders in the last rounds of in-person engagements.

Now, with international and regional travel put on hold indefinitely, FCFA research teams are having to be agile in a whole new way: seeing which of these engagements can continue by moving them online, and what work will need to take place after travel restrictions are lifted. Researchers are planning around uncertain timelines, knowing that international travel is likely to be on hold for longer than travel within countries. They also have to bear in mind the internet connectivity limitations in some countries.

Adapting these information-sharing and training processes for online meetings can only happen because of the trust and relationships that have been built up over the past four years, says FCFA’s Coordination, Capacity Development and Knowledge Exchange Unit (CCKE) lead, Suzanne Carter, so researchers are focusing on deepening relationships with existing partners, rather than trying to establish new partnerships.

Here are some examples of how individual researchers are adapting to the new working conditions in these unusual times: 

Adapting as a PhD student in Ghana

Speaking over Skype from his home office in the southern Ghanian city of Cape Coast, doctoral student Francis Nkrumah said he was using the time to finish writing his PhD thesis while his university campus was closed. 

Like many of the FCFA researchers in the various regional consortia working across sub-Saharan Africa, Nkrumah is working from home as his country implements full and partial shut-down measures in different regions, in an effort to reduce social interactions and slow the spread of Covid-19.

Nkrumah is a physicist based at the University of Cape Coast and hopes to complete his thesis in time for the deadline in June 2020.

‘I’m looking at historic rainfall data in southern West Africa to see if there has been an intensification of rainfall and an increase in extreme rainfall events here, and their relationship with recent changes in storm trends,’ he explains.

The West African FCFA consortium — called AMMA-2050 (African Monsoon Multi-disciplinary Analysis-2050) — is chiefly concerned with understanding how rising global temperatures will alter the monsoon system across the region and impact on climate-related risks, particularly related to agriculture and urban flooding.

Like many of his FCFA colleagues, one of the main challenges for Nkrumah is losing access to the university internet infrastructure, which allows him to communicate better with his supervisors and other FCFA team members. However, he is accessing the internet through his mobile phone, even though data is expensive.

Virtual tea with the urban climate researchers 

Like so many people who are working from home during the lockdown, many FCFA researchers are now also juggling childcare and family responsibilities during these unusual times.

‘These lifestyle changes, as well as the psychological impacts and distractions associated with living through a world crisis, means that for most people productivity is substantially reduced, understandably so,’ says a memo circulated by the FRACTAL management team, based at the University of Cape Town’s Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG).

The team held an online check-in in early April, and planned to start a virtual coffee or breakfast club, as part of a way to build support until the lock-down ends.

One of the key processes for this team’s climate information-sharing is through the ‘learning lab’ model, where researchers hold workshops with key stakeholders. This involves carefully facilitated face-to-face processes, which won’t be possible for the immediate futures. The team is brainstorming the best way to move these sorts of knowledge-sharing processes onto online platforms.  

Rescheduling end-of-project plans 

After four years of developing policy-relevant climate information for sub-Saharan African countries, FCFA projects have received extensions through to 2021 to scale up the knowledge developed by the regional consortia and share the project’s findings with relevant stakeholders in their regions. The Covid-19 containment measures will change timelines for some of these extension-stage plans, and various teams are grappling with this now.

‘The AMMA-2050 consortium had a number of stakeholder engagements planned in West Africa in 2020, and these will have to be rescheduled,’ says Emma Visman, Senior Knowledge Exchange Officer at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology.

Visman has been working with the AMMA-2050 team to facilitate monitoring, evaluation and learning as well as engagements with stakeholders in West Africa.

FCFA-funded work in this region, which involves a collaboration of researchers from institutions in West Africa and Europe, focused on two pilot projects. The first project looked at urban flood risk management in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The second focused on the impact of changing monsoon patterns on agriculture in Senegal. Information-sharing events planned in the coming months include workshops and training in order to share and strengthen the capacities of national and sub-state decision-makers and technical advisers so that they can use project outputs. The national meteorological agencies are also a key target audience to receive this information.

Deciding on new dates for these processes is difficult at this stage, owing to the uncertainty of how long the public health protection measures will be held in place within and across different countries in the region. The annual rainy season and existing security constraints in Burkina Faso are also factors in determining when stakeholder engagements can take place.

‘Most of our engagements were planned around the rainy season, which normally occurs between June and October, when stakeholders such as those in the Senegalese national meteorological agency are focused on operational services. The training we had planned in Senegal will need to accommodate seasonal demands and may have to take place at the end of the rains,’ says Visman.

AMMA-2050 is consulting with funders and partners to assess the need for and possibility of extension to accommodate the unexpected delays.

Like many of the FCFA teams, the AMMA-2050 researchers are used to working remotely and across continents, and are continuing much of their collaboration through the usual online platforms, according to Dr Youssouph Sane, from the Agence Nationale de l’Aviation Civile et de la Météorologie (ANACIM) in Dakar, Senegal.

FCFA will publish updates on the project’s plans as the consortia teams adapt to the rapidly-changing international and regional conditions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.

AMMA-2050 (African Monsoon Multi-disciplinary Analysis 2050) aims to support decision-makers in West Africa to integrate this knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions.

FRACTAL (Future Resilience for African Cities and Lands) aims to link city environments and climate scientists in order to support decision-makers to integrate this knowledge into climate-sensitive decisions at city-regional scale in sub-Saharan Africa. See more about climate change in Zambia or climate change in Zimbabwe.

This article was written by Leonie Joubert as part of a series covering the science produced by various FCFA projects, and introduces some of the people behind it.