Team receives $2.5M grant to study effect of drought hazards

10/21/2015 Kristina Shidlauski

Research team to study the impact of hydrological hazards on food security in Zambia.

Written by Kristina Shidlauski

Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are vulnerable to the impacts of hydrological hazards – for example, floods and droughts – which can have a direct effect on food security. Previous approaches to studying the effect of hydrological hazards on susceptible regions have recognized the vulnerability of farmers but have not taken into account the additional considerations of disrupted food trade routes and impacted infrastructure that can hamper relief efforts. A team of researchers from Princeton University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Indiana University have received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a framework that takes all of these factors into account.

The research team has identified Zambia as an ideal place to study the interactions between trade, policy, and hydrological and agricultural systems. Zambia is particularly vulnerable to droughts, due to a population that relies on rainfed agriculture and suffers from high levels of malnutrition, poverty, disease and lack of education. The country is also hampered by the low resilience of subsistence farmers and inadequate risk management and early warning systems. Megan Konar, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the framework the team is developing will assist in understanding and managing risk.

“The goal of the project is to understand how droughts impact food security,” Konar said. “Typically the focus is on how hazards impact food production. So, we take this one step further, to evaluate the impact to households in Zambia. In this way, we believe our approach – which integrates climate, agricultural production, infrastructure, and markets – will provide new understanding of food security outcomes and empower decision-makers.”

In addition to Konar, researchers involved in this program include Justin Sheffield (principal investigator), Kelly Caylor and Lyndon Estes from Princeton University; Kathy Baylis from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and Tom Evans and Beth Plale from Indiana University. More information can be found here.

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This story was published October 21, 2015.