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Wildlife Trafficking Response Reaches a Tipping Point

Wildlife trafficking – poaching and illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife parts – is a major threat to the security and stability of nations worldwide.  It is often perpetrated by organized criminal networks, and profits are known to finance armed militants in Africa.  Poachers threaten the safety of rural communities and generally undermine decades of conservation and development gains supported by USAID and others.  And, in the last decade, more than 1,000 rangers have lost their lives protecting wildlife.

Last week marked the culmination of recent efforts to change this dynamic and recognize wildlife trafficking as a serious crime deserving the attention of law enforcement, judges and policy makers.  On February 11, the United States released its National Strategy to Combat Wildlife Trafficking, in which we resolve to strengthen domestic and international efforts in a whole-of-government approach.  On February 13, leaders from around the world met at the London Conference on the Illegal Wildlife Trade to commit to take action on this crisis.

Operation Cobra II: Leopard skins seized at Ethopia

Leopard skins seized in Ethopia / Operation Cobra II

As USAID’s representative on the U.S. delegation, I was proud to tell attendees about the Agency’s leadership on the issue, and the success of our programs in curbing wildlife crime.  One of the priority actions agreed to in London — strengthening cross-border co-ordination and support for regional wildlife law enforcement networks — has been a focus of USAID’s work since 2005.  Our regional program in Asia, in partnership with the Departments of State and Interior, supported “Operation Cobra II,” a 28-country, month-long collaboration that resulted in 400 arrests of wildlife criminals, including several kingpins of the trade.  Law enforcement officers from the 28 countries made 350 major wildlife seizures across Africa and Asia and confiscated 36 rhino horns, three metric tons of elephant ivory, 10,000 turtles, and 1,000 skins of protected species, among other items.

In addition to strengthening law enforcement on the frontlines, USAID makes longer-term investments to deter future wildlife crime.  Take Kenya, where a surge in wildlife crime is putting elephants, rhinos, and the livelihoods of 300,000 Kenyans in the tourism industry at risk.  Despite the costs of inaction, only four percent of convicted offenders have been sent to jail in the past six years.  Recognizing this trend, USAID supported the Government in formulating the Wildlife Conservation and Management Bill and Policy of 2013, which took effect on January 10, 2014 and increased penalties for poaching and trafficking.  In the first test of the new law, a Chinese man caught with a 7.5 pound elephant tusk was sentenced to pay a 20 million Kenya shilling fine ($230,000) or spend seven years in prison.

dIvory seized at Entebbe Airport, Uganda. Credit: Operation Cobra II

Ivory seized at Entebbe Airport, Uganda. / Operation Cobra II

In London, Prince Charles aptly noted: “As vital as strong enforcement is, we can – indeed we must – attack demand.”  A growing part of USAID’s portfolio is making progress on this root cause of wildlife trafficking.  With our support, the “Fin Free Thailand” campaign recently unveiled its “Blue List” of 70 hotels that will no longer serve shark-fin soup or any shark meat.  In Thailand, Vietnam and China, the iThink campaign uses key opinion leaders to create a groundswell of public opinion against wildlife purchases, including ivory and rhino horn.  Through numerous actions, including substantial support for Operation Cobra (I and II), its recent crush of illegal ivory in Hong Kong, and by committing to no longer serve shark’s fin soup at official functions, the Government of China has emerged as an important partner in  efforts to cut demand for illegal wildlife products.

All told, USAID supports anti-poaching activities in 25 countries, and will devote at least $30 million in 2014 funds to combat wildlife trafficking.  We are scaling up our response at the frontlines to stop poachers and traffickers, while also working to change the policies, attitudes and incentives that define this crisis.  Last year we started work on another priority discussed in London — analysis to better understand the links between wildlife crime and other organized crime and corruption.  This year, we’ll use that to prioritize and support transnational collaboration to counter trade in ivory and rhino horn.   We’ll also roll out a system for prioritizing ranger patrols in dozens of African parks, and host a competition for innovative solutions to the crisis from the brightest minds in academia, civil society and the private sector.

In the last few years as many as 25,000 elephants have been killed each year, often by armed groups slaying dozens or hundreds at a time.  Other rare species are facing similar fates due to illegal wildlife trade.  Prince Charles told those of us who met last week of the need “to take urgent action to put a stop to this trade, which has become a grave threat not only to the wildlife and the people who protect them, but also to the security of so many nations.”  USAID has a strong foundation on which to redouble its efforts alongside those of the global community.  If we all follow through on our commitments from London, the opportunity to end wildlife trafficking as a major threat to biodiversity and people is within our reach.

Uncovering Success: A Holistic Approach to Taking Stock of Natural Resource Management Interventions

How do we know if development projects have impacted people’s lives? We can collect data on how many people participated in a project or how much their income increased. We can also measure the effect on the number of people with access to a service or we can count the amount of land that has been reforested. But when we know that complex development challenges take a long time to change, how do we clarify our impact beyond these specific measures and the very short project life cycle, which is usually three to five years?

Natural tree regeneration not only helps protect the environment and enhance livelihoods, but cuts down on women’s time collecting household fuel wood. Photo: Brent McCusker

Natural tree regeneration not only helps protect the environment and enhance livelihoods, but cuts down on women’s time collecting household fuel wood. Photo: Brent McCusker

This question was at the heart of a challenge recently taken up by the Agency’s Productive Landscapes Team in the Land Tenure and Resource Management Office.

Real landscape-level change takes a long time to detect and often eludes our most finely tuned impact indicators. Because environmental and landscape change happens over decades, and because human actions are often the result of many causes, E3 developed a holistic assessment methodology called “Stocktaking” and tested it in several rural Malawian landscapes.

In trying to understand both the unintended and long term impacts of our interventions, the team drew upon findings in the Sahel that show significant re-greening of the land over the last thirty years. That finding was identified only after interviewing local people and asking them about the reasons for their successes—not passing judgment on their actions, but by identifying the root causes of successful land transformations and the ways in which land users overcame barriers.

Stocktaking differs from traditional impact assessments or monitoring and evaluation methods. These latter techniques judge success or failure against a benchmark (indicator) to determine whether or not a project has met its specific goals over a bounded period of time. Stocktaking takes a different path. The focus is on long term, multi-sectoral changes, and in discovering hidden and/or unintended impacts. For instance, a Stocktaking approach might examine how an agricultural intervention led to increased food production and forest regrowth and an increase in the amount of credit in a village. This variety of different outcomes might not be captured in a traditional assessment technique.  Stocktaking can be used to identify unintended impacts long after a program or development investment has ended.

With Stocktaking in mind, the E3 team traveled to Malawi in June and again in August of this year to search for the root causes of landscape change. Malawi’s north is relatively land abundant and USAID’s interventions have built value-chains from the local environment. Practices such as beekeeping, fishing along Lake Malawi, and sustainable cash crop production are all livelihood enhancing activities that put money in the hands of farmers without damaging the natural resource base.

After using the Stocktaking methodology to interview several households and community groups, the team learned valuable lessons about the longer-term impact of USAID interventions, and many of the positive unintended consequences of natural resource management projects. For instance, respondents remarked that natural tree regeneration resulted in significant labor savings. Women were able to reduce the amount of time they spent collecting fuel wood and transfer that labor savings to other income generating activities. Natural tree regeneration also reduced the amount of conflict with park rangers of nearby conservation areas.  Beekeeping in the Nyika-Vwasa Forest Reserve generated sufficient capital for project beneficiaries to start a range of businesses.

The follow-up trip in southern Malawi in August 2013 discovered similar unintended consequences. The Stocktaking methodology was conducted on water projects in an irrigation and watershed management scheme. A key finding was that village savings and loans, a type of micro-lending institution, were critical in financing activities such as buying seeds for more diverse crops that will help farmers adapt to climate change.

Like the re-greening of the Sahel, these unintended consequences of natural resource management interventions may have fallen “under the radar” in normal monitoring and evaluation since they were not expressed goals of any single project. Additionally, natural regeneration is difficult to quantify with traditional assessment and is easy to miss with standard geospatial imagery. Stocktaking team members are in the process of examining advanced geospatial methods to determine when forested plots were either naturally regenerated or planted. By locating interventions on the map and using such images, a longer term time series analysis can be compiled to determine exactly when the landscape changed, so that Stocktaking teams can then probe deeper with stakeholders to discover why that change occurred.  A instructional guide on how to conduct a Stocktaking evaluation and a community discussion board are found at:

The Stocktaking approach is one way the USAID Forward principles of evidence-based decision making and local stakeholder participation are supporting improved development outcomes in the Malawi and beyond.

FrontLines: Depleting Resources

FrontLines November-December 2013: Depleting Resources

Read the latest edition of USAID’s FrontLines to learn more about the Agency’s long-standing investments in biodiversity conservation and natural resources management. Some highlights:

  • A new generation of Cambodians is now living on forest land that has been officially recognized and titled to them. More confident in their present, they are working now to prevent deforestation and conserve the land for future generations.
  • Community-based conservation is making life better for people in western Tanzania who rely on the Miombo forests as workplace, fuel station, medicine cabinet and, most importantly, home.
  • The end of a typical day at the office for the Palawan NGO Network in the Philippines finds a desk of oily chainsaws piled to the ceiling. Find out more from USAID’s Scott Lampman about what it takes to curb illegal logging in this country’s vital forests.
  • Preserving natural resources is good for people, animals, plants and, sometimes, the bottom line. Ecotourism establishments in Jordan are helping their nearby communities prosper and allowing tourists a chance to see endangered creatures like the Arabian oryx, the Houbara Bustard and the Saker falcon.
  • Click on FrontLines‘ new podcast, which takes listeners on an adventure high above the treetops of a part of Ghana that is one of the world’s 22 critical biodiversity hot spots.

If you want an e-mail reminder in your inbox when the latest issue of FrontLines has been posted online, subscribe here.

Taking Action to Combat Climate Change

This week, delegates from countries around the world continue to work at the UN’s climate change negotiations in Warsaw on a global agreement to take meaningful action on climate change. In the midst of the negotiations, I was pleased to represent USAID at a side event with other Obama Administration officials to describe how the United States is already taking action to combat climate change – through the steps outlined in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

The President’s Climate Action Plan (PDF) has three main pillars: to cut carbon pollution in the United States, to prepare the United States for impacts of climate change, and to lead international efforts to address global climate change.  As part of this government-wide effort, USAID provides support to over 50 developing countries for climate change, working with them on tools and strategies that build resilience, as well as working with them to pursue sustainable economic growth, spur investment in clean energy, and reduce emissions from deforestation.

Panelists at UN’s climate change negotiations in Warsaw. From left to right: Andrew Steer, WRI, Kit Batten, Nancy Sutley, CEQ and Jonathan Pershing from DOE. Photo credit: Andrea Welsh, USAID

Panelists at UN’s climate change negotiations in Warsaw. From left to right: Andrew Steer, WRI; Kit Batten, USAID; Nancy Sutley, CEQ and Jonathan Pershing from DOE. Photo credit: Andrea Welsh, USAID

To maximize our impact, USAID is pursuing innovative financing strategies, partnering with the private sector, and utilizing science and technology. Earlier this year, Secretary Kerry announced that USAID will be able to leverage up to $100 million dollars worth of private sector investment in wind power, solar power, hydropower, and energy efficiency projects in India through USAID’s Development Credit Authority (DCA). The U.S. Government is also a founding partner of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020, which is a public private partnership with the goal of reducing tropical deforestation associated with global commodities like palm oil, paper and pulp, soy, and beef. We’re also working with NASA to provide satellite imagery and accessible weather and climate data to local officials in East Africa, Central America and the Hindu Kush/Himalaya region so communities can make more informed decisions.

We’re already seeing and measuring the impact of our efforts.  In 2012 alone, USAID’s work in the forestry sector contributed to reducing more than 140 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.  That’s equal to the carbon pollution generated by 39 coal-fired power plants, or the carbon pollution released by the consumption of over 15 billion gallons of gasoline.  That’s billion with a ‘b.’

Under President Obama’s leadership, the United States is making meaningful and measurable progress on climate change. USAID is proud to have a substantial role in this effort and is proud to represent the United States here with many of our country partners in Warsaw. We recognize that building resilience to climate change and pursuing sustainable low-emissions growth are essential parts of our development mission.

Empowering Women to Address Climate Change

Today marks the second annual Gender Day at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference, which opened (PDF) last week in Warsaw, Poland. Leaders from around the world are focusing on how to achieve their commitments to promote gender balance and improve women’s participation in international and local level decision-making related to climate change.

This year, USAID is proud to announce that we are initiating a new partnership with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to work together to expand and enhance USAID’s efforts to address gender issues through programming and support to our partner governments.

Members of the Huruma Women’s Group in Kenya. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc.

A group of women in Kenya who supply maize for sale in local markets. Photo credit: Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc.

This support is critical as climate change will have a serious impact on the livelihoods of poor women in developing countries; the increasing frequency of droughts and stronger storms will affect agriculture and water resources, sectors in which women have an essential management role.

Speaking on a panel this morning, Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality emphasized that “globally, women are central to unlocking solutions to the climate change challenges we face.”

IUCN has found that women often lead the way in adapting to climate change impacts, and play a key role in mitigating climate change by optimizing energy efficiency, using low-footprint energy sources and techniques, and influencing a household’s and community’s consumption patterns. Women’s participation in decision making at higher levels has specifically benefited environmental policy, such that countries with a higher number of women in their parliaments are more likely to set aside protected land areas and ratify international environmental treaties. In fact, recent data (PDF) reveals that there is a causal relationship between environment and gender; when gender inequality is high, forest depletion, air pollution and other measures of environmental degradation are also high.

While women can be agents of change, their contributions are seldom fully harnessed. The result is a lost opportunity. This new partnership will be aimed at advancing women’s empowerment and gender quality to achieve greater strides in reducing emissions to mitigate climate change, building resilience to climate change impacts, and promoting better development in general.

While plans are necessary to illuminate the pathway to a goal, they are not sufficient for attaining those goals.  This new agreement with IUCN to implement the Gender Equality for Climate Change Opportunities (GECCO) project will provide USAID and our partner governments with support for our mutual goal of advancing women’s empowerment and gender equality through and for the benefit of climate change and development programs.

We have seen great progress in recent years, with growing attention to gender issues within the UNFCCC and within projects addressing these issues at the country level.  However, there is much work still to be done, so we are excited about the opportunities this new partnership with IUCN brings.


Forest Success Stories Draw Crowd at U.N. Climate Talks in Warsaw

More than 100 people packed into the U.S. Center at U.N. climate talks in Warsaw this week to hear experts from four continents describe their successes and challenges in advancing forest conservation under emerging global policy rules to curb climate change.

Forestry and development experts from the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Colombia and Germany talked about their progress Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), in their own countries and in other forest nations, such as Brazil.  USAID Assistant Administrator for Economic Growth, Education and Environment Eric Postel led the panel, and Trigg Talley, the Department of State’s lead U.S. negotiator at U.N. climate talks, kicked things off with some words about REDD+’s role in climate negotiations.

Victor Kabengele Wa Kadulu, National REDD+ Coordinator for the DRC answers audience questions at U.S. Center. Germany’s Christiane Ehringhaus looks on. Photo credit: USAID

Victor Kabengele Wa Kadulu, National REDD+ Coordinator for the DRC answers audience questions at U.S. Center. Germany’s Christiane Ehringhaus looks on. Photo credit: USAID

REDD+ is a policy approach that emerged from U.N. climate talks. It would provide incentives for countries and communities who reduce deforestation and related carbon emissions.

Forests are natural storehouses for carbon, and their destruction contributes as much as a sixth of the emissions causing climate change. This means forest conservation protects the global climate – in addition to watersheds, biodiversity, and livelihoods for the more than 1 billion people who depend on forests.

In Warsaw, REDD+ experts described the successes and challenges they have faced protecting forests. Victor Kabengele Wa Kadulu, National REDD+ Coordinator for the DRC, talked about deforestation pressures that cross national borders. Ivan Dario Valencia Rodriguez, from Colombia’s Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, talked about protecting remote areas sparsely populated by indigenous peoples.

Alejandrino Sibucao, from Philippines’ Department of Environment, discussed advances in mapping national forests and deforestation rates. And Christiane Ehringhaus, from Germany’s KfW Development Bank, described her work with state-level efforts to curb deforestation in Brazil.

The United States has participated in climate talks since the early 1990s. Today, 195 nations participate, and – not surprisingly – sometimes progress toward a global treaty seems slow.  But success stories coming from REDD+ can demonstrate just how much progress is happening on the ground.

Forest protection provides many benefits in addition to protecting the earth’s climate.  Gathering evidence of successful approaches for mitigating climate change has increased interest in natural carbon storehouses like forests – and in the idea of providing incentives so that people will safeguard them. This has opened up new avenues of exploration and action for forest protection – and for sharing the benefits with communities who protect them.

A “Conference of Parties” to Face Climate Change

Eric Postel is assistant administrator the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment

Eric Postel is assistant administrator the Bureau of Economic Growth, Education and Environment

I’m here in Warsaw at the 19th so-called “Conference of the Parties” – basically every nation is represented plus all kinds of interested NGOs and private sector companies to work on global climate change issues. USAID participates robustly for three reasons.

First, we come to assist our Department of State colleagues in the negotiations. These COP meetings are very big. To accommodate everybody, COP19 is being held inside Poland’s national soccer stadium. On five levels. Every concourse is filled with temporarily-built meeting rooms, booths, press facilities, work stations, etc. Most skyboxes have been converted to offices.

The playing field has been covered over with enormous tents serving as temporary meeting halls for the plenary sessions. At any one time there are dozens of meetings negotiating different aspects of climate change initiatives. To cover them all, the State Department asks other U.S. Government climate change experts, including USAID experts, to join in the effort.

Second, we are here to learn more about how nations are facing climate change so that we are better able to fulfill our development mission. The COP represents a very efficient way of interacting with many other governments and members of civil society to learn about their successes, failures, concerns, and future plans. For example, a session on Fast Start Finance (FSF) was held today. Nine of the developed countries that collectively committed to providing $30 billion in public finance to developing countries for climate action between 2010 and 2012, including the United States, spoke about lessons learned during the period.

19th "Conference of the Parties in Warsaw, Poland. Photo credit: USAID

19th “Conference of the Parties in Warsaw, Poland. Photo credit: USAID

The good news is we all met our commitments: from Liechtenstein’s $700,000 to the United States’ $7.4 billion. The interesting part was to hear each country talk about lessons learned. I was struck by the parallels between climate assistance and “Aid for Trade” in WTO meetings I have attended. Aid for Trade discussions have evolved over the years, moving beyond inputs like dollars spent, and starting to grapple with outcomes, aid effectiveness, and private sector engagement. I can already see climate finance headed in the same direction.

These lessons will help us improve our programs at USAID. Today’s discussion gave me fresh insight into one of the challenges USAID is facing in continuing to develop good outcome measures for our adaptation work with developing countries. With workable adaption metrics, the global community could be in a position to shift the conversation from inputs to outcomes — a place we surely want to be.

Third, USAID staff come to climate talks to tell the rest of the world about the good results we are getting with the effective deployment of limited U.S. resources. Telling our story is important – so the rest of the world knows the U.S. is engaged in these issues as a good global citizen. For example, I will moderate a panel tomorrow that focuses on projects working to conserve the planet’s precious forests. A Colombian panelist will talk about a project, funded in part by USAID, working with 29 autonomous communities – Afro-Colombian Councils and Indigenous Reserves – to conserve more than 1 million hectares in the Colombian Pacific, one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world. Another effort we will discuss is the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) – a new public-private partnership committed to addressing the global drivers of deforestation by reducing tropical deforestation associated with commodities such as palm oil, soy, beef, and paper and pulp. TFA 2020 has already attracted six major new partners – the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, World Resources Institute, Conservation International, and IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative. These partners have joined the United States and the Consumer Goods Forum, a global network of more than 400 companies with over $3 trillion in annual sales. TFA 2020 shows how far we have already come and where we are headed.

So, there are lots of reasons to be here representing the United States and lots to get done.

Reclaiming Refuse to Help Generate Reliable Power

This originally appeared in Feed the Future newsletter

Energy and agriculture are closely linked: reliable access to affordable power is a key component to developing a country’s agriculture sector and giving agriculture-based businesses a chance to grow. That’s why Feed the Future is working in Liberia to reverse decades of devastating civil conflict and rebuild a sustainable energy infrastructure that can support better market opportunities for smallholder farmers and agricultural processors.

After fourteen years of war, all sectors of Liberia’s economy were heavily damaged. By the end of the conflict in 2003, Liberia was not producing a single kilowatt of electricity for the entire country, and even today, only about 10 percent of the capital city of Monrovia is on the public electric grid. Outlying rural communities depend on privately owned gasoline or diesel-driven generators for their electricity, which makes Liberia one of the most expensive and environmentally unfriendly electricity generation systems in the world.

To address this serious challenge to development, Feed the Future is working to expand the use of renewable energy to rural areas of Liberia where agriculture is concentrated. Since June 2013, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s program to support Liberia’s energy sector and its flagship Feed the Future program in the country have been working with the Government of Liberia and local partners to establish a biomass energy center that can turn palm oil, palm nut and coconut shell byproducts, among other types of organic refuse, into an affordable and reliable supply of electricity. The pilot center is based at the Booker Washington Institute (BWI), Liberia’s first vocational and agricultural school.

Biofuels not only have the potential to displace carbon emissions from fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, but they are also significantly more accessible to smallholder farmers in remote rural areas who are already growing the crops (like palm and coconut) whose byproducts can be converted into fuel through a process called gasifying. With the right infrastructure, organic biomass can supplement the use of fossil fuel to help bring costs down in the agriculture sector. The gasifiers have already allowed BWI to complement its other sources of energy with renewable energy.

This innovative technology shows promise for agricultural processors in particular who cannot regularly afford costly fossil fuel for generators to power processing equipment. As the model is increasingly adopted in Liberia, Feed the Future will promote private sector investment that can expand access to affordable and renewable energy for some of Liberia’s most vulnerable populations.


Video of the Week: Adapting to Melting Glaciers: A Partnership Approach

Through the USAID-supported High Mountain Partnership (HiMAP), Peru and Nepal are addressing the impacts and risks of rapidly melting glaciers in high mountain areas. The HiMAP brings scientists, governments officials, and local people together to share lessons learned on managing high-risk, high-impact floods caused by rapidly melting glaciers.

Learn more about USAID’s work in climate change and promotion of development based on climate-smart planning and clean technologies.

Behind the Scenes: Interview with Andrew Hoell on Dryness Conditions in East Africa

This blog is part of an interview blog series called “Behind the Scenes.” It includes interviews with USAID leaders, program implementers, Mission Directors, and development issue experts who help fulfill USAID’s mission. They are a casual behind-the-scenes look into USAID’s daily effort to deliver economic, development and humanitarian assistance around the world — and the results we’ve seen.

When did you first become interested in climate research?

New England snow storms sparked my interest in weather at a young age. As an undergraduate, I attended the University of Massachusetts to study Meteorology. During my second year as an undergraduate, I became interested in how weather patterns behaved over the entire globe on longer timescales, climate time scales. I attended graduate school at the University of Massachusetts and worked on projects that linked Central Asia climate to the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans. The regional atmospheric circulations of Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa are intertwined, so those are now my regions of focus.

Can you talk a little bit about how UC Santa Barbara and FEWS NET work together to explain the broader concept of food security?

I can only speak to the climate side at UC Santa Barbara. At UC Santa Barbara, we’re interested in how rainfall has recently changed over East Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia and what climate features have forced those changes. We take the lessons that we’ve learned from the recent changes and we draw conclusions about how the climate will change in the future.

When you first began researching climatic weather patterns in the Western Pacific Ocean, did you have any idea that your work would help guide future international development decision making?

I’ve been researching the links between the tropical western Pacific Ocean and the global climate since about 2006, my first year of graduate school. Initially, graduate students, including me, are usually focused on learning or pleasing their advisor. In 2008, I met Chris Funk of the Climate Hazards Group at UCSB, and we collaborated on a paper that investigated the links between the Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures and East African climate and how those links influence food security. This was the first time I considered that my work might guide international development and decision making.

What was the motivation for writing about drying conditions in the East Africa Horn? What did you and your team seek to explain?

Our overarching goal is to understand how climate variability influences East Africa. This paper is a very brief review that links recent changes in East African climate (since the late 1990s) to an abrupt warming in west Pacific sea surface temperatures. The video below explains more.

What sorts of technology and techniques did you use in this study?

In the beginning of our study, we show how the climate from 1999 until recently has behaved in terms of East African rainfall and tropical Indo-Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures. From this, we were able to show that (at least) superficially that East Africa rainfall and tropical Indo-west Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures could be related.

In the second part of our study, we use an atmospheric model forced by observed sea surface temperatures to confirm that west Pacific sea surface temperature changes were influencing East African rainfall. The study can be found here (Article 15).

What’s next for you and your team? How will you continue to work with FEWS NET to explain climate patterns and its effects on food security?

Our team will continue to investigate what factors influence climate variability over East Africa, the Middle East (specifically Yemen) and Central Asia. We focus on a wide variety of time scales, from individual seasons to multiple decades. We are most concerned with changes on decadal time scales because they are most important to long-term food and water security. However, our understanding of climate variability for individual seasons is also very important because it is this climate variability that primarily forces short-term droughts and famines (e.g. 2010/2011 over East Africa).

Interested in learning more about one of USAID’s programs or want to hear from one of USAID’s leaders? We want to know! Please provide your suggestions below.

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