Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
The African continent has warmed about half a degree (centigrade) over the last century and the mean annual temperature in Africa is likely to rise an average of 1.5-4°C (34-39°F) by 2099, according to the most recent estimates from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In the view of most climate change experts, Africa is more likely, over the remainder of this century, to experience the adverse to impacts of climate change than any other heavily inhabited region. In Sub-Saharan Africa, extreme weather conditions are already causing dry areas to become drier and wet areas wetter, with attendant declines in agriculture yields and the spread of several endemic diseases—including malaria—to parts of the region where, until very recently, they have not posed major health threats.
According to recent World Bank studies, the environmental consequences of climate change will thus have particularly adverse effects on the economic development of many sub-Saharan African countries. Credible projections suggest that some nine to twenty percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land will become much less suitable for farming by 2080, and that rain-fed agriculture is likely to reduced by up to 50 percent by 2020 in the region’s (currently) semi-arid and arid regions. Unfortunately, however, although many governments and several inter-governmental organizations are formally committed to addressing the consequences of adverse climate change in African settings, very little has yet been accomplished toward that end. The development of African capacities for such work has been severely neglected, particularly in countries (including Zimbabwe) in which civic participation has long met with political resistance, and very few serious attempts to come to grips with the problem have carefully explored what location-specific indigenous knowledge can contribute to a better understanding of the adverse consequences of current and prospective adverse climate changes. Accordingly, in spite of the fact that Africa being the continent that is most likely to suffer from the effects of climate change, African people—and African youth in particular—have had very few opportunities for effective engagement in the process of analyzing and tackling the problem.
Fortunately, however, the need for urgent action to combat and minimize the adverse impacts of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly recognized in well-informed global analyses of the development implications of climate change in sub-Saharan Africa, and it is thus not unreasonable to hope and expect that the important role of institutions with strong roots in African settings will be increasingly recognized and that a similar priority will be attached to engaging younger generations of Africans in that process.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
In sub-Saharan Africa, and in Zimbabwe in particular, public awareness of global climate change and its implications for the well-being and livelihoods of the region’s burgeoning population is very limited, at best. Moreover, in a region that is already contending with a host of development issues, including alarming rates of youth unemployment exacerbated by unusually severe droughts, the few government officials and university-based scholars who are attempting to understand and address climate change problems have very limited information on time-tested adaptive strategies in drought-affected communities and are thus at risk of designing adaptation and mitigation strategies that are ill-suited for the communities for which they are prescribed.
In mid-2009, with the twin aims of addressing the major awareness, information, community response and public policy needs relating to climate change and engaging young people in responding to those needs, Verengai created the Harare-based Development Reality Institute (DRI). Using a “virtual school” approach, DRI offers a basic on-line course that examines the Earth's climate system and explores the science and politics of climate change, and it has recently introduced an advanced, diploma-level course that draws on the expertise of climate change researchers from many parts of the world. Paralleling those course offerings, the DRI website also contains a knowledge management initiative (a “K-hub”), with a rapidly expanding array of documentary materials on climate change—including research reports, position papers, and journal articles on climate change, and documentary videos of community efforts to respond to adverse climate change.
Drawing on the expanding array of materials in Institute’s “K-hub,” Verengai and other members of DRI’s staff are also increasingly engaged in advocacy roles in domestic and international debates concerning appropriate policy responses to the many challenges posed by global climate change. In a related activity deploying a powerful combination of its webcasting and skype conferencing facilities, DRI is also enabling substantial numbers of Zimbabweans working on climate change issues in government agencies or in relevant university departments and CSOs to participate in international conferences relating to climate change. In addition, in an effort to engage a younger generation of school-age youth in environmental protection and climate change-related activities, Verengai and his colleagues have promoted the creation and are assisting the development of “Cool Clubs” in secondary schools in Zimbabwe to stimulate student interest and in environmental quality issues and their engagement in community-based efforts to address those issues.