Two weeks ago I traveled to Stellenbosch University in the Western Cape region of South Africa, where I announced the next phase of a remarkably successful project called Periperi University.  USAID has forged an innovative partnership with Stellenbosch University, bringing together ten universities across Africa to focus on managing and reducing the risk and impact of disasters that have challenged development for decades, taking millions of lives and causing untold damage.

The Partners Enhancing Resilience to People Exposed to Risks – Universities (Periperi U) program provides a continent-wide network for education, training and research in disaster risk reduction, under the leadership of Stellenbosch University’s Disaster Mitigation for Sustainable Livelihoods Program.  The network currently includes universities in Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Tanzania, with each providing unique specialization and focus, from seismology studies and livestock management to conservation agriculture for semi-arid lands.

As a side note to explain the name, Periperi is a type of chili pepper used in many countries in Africa. Taking advantage of its wide name recognition, it has been used to name a number of risk reduction initiatives in Southern Africa, and is a fitting choice for this program as well.

Countries in Africa face a range of disaster risk challenges, compounded by climate variability, rapid population growth, environmental and natural resource degradation, economic underdevelopment and rapid urbanization.  We are finding that with climate change, disasters are increasing, both in number and in scale.  And, as we are seeing right now in the Horn of Africa, this has significant implications for agriculture and food security.  There is an imperative to support an indigenous capacity to respond.  This partnership, which began in 2006, has already made remarkable progress in building a knowledge and resource base in Africa to address climate change related disasters.

Periperi U is promoting local solutions to these complex problems, with strong advocacy based on credible academic research and policy recommendations.  It supports institutional development through short course training, formal education, local research, and policy advocacy.  These programs are creating and influencing the next generation of first responders, conservation officials, and local government disaster management specialists.  From my meetings and discussions last week, I can truly say that it is the resolve and commitment of the people involved in Periperi U that will make a difference for millions of people across the continent.

Here is a link to the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) coverage of USAID’s Peri-Peri Disaster mitigation partnership support across Africa, announced from Cape Town, South Africa, on November 14, 2011.