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Pan-African Heatwave Health Hazard Forecasting

Friday, May 15, 2020

Over the continent of Africa there has been very little research on heatwaves, and the majority of research that does exist focuses on the Western Sahel region. This is concerning because heat extremes are likely to increase across Africa and are predicted to continue increasing with sustained climate change. Extreme heatwaves can lead to, in some cases, devastating health and livelihood impacts, for example raised mortality rates and decreased crop yields and especially in those with a limited thermoregulatory capacity or prolonged heat exposure due to certain livelihoods.

In order to stimulate missing and necessary research into heatwaves across Africa, a new interdisciplinary PhD project was developed by Prof Rosalind Cornforth and Prof Hannah Cloke under the NERC-funded Scenario Doctoral Training Partnership. The PhD project focuses on identifying heatwave events across the continent of Africa, which have the potential to cause heat stress amongst the population, as well as, exploring the perceived risk of heat to both health and livelihoods. To support the PhD, an interdisciplinary supervisory team has been brought together which includes the Walker Institute’s Director, Prof Ros Cornforth, Prof Hannah Cloke, Co-Director of Water@Reading, and Dr Claudia Di Napoli from SAGES at the University of Reading. They are joined by Dr Celia Petty Director of the NGO, Evidence for Development, and Dr Florian Pappenberger, Head of Forecasting at the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

The project will focus on Ghana and Uganda initially before taking a continental view of Africa as a whole. Chloe began this PhD in September 2019 and will continue with this project until September 2022. We spoke with Chloe to hear more about this project:

“First, I carried out a systematic review which looked at research and policy in the UK for heatwaves. I think it’s important to understand the landscape in your own country before considering another. I also believe that there might be heat adaptation taking place in African countries that the UK could learn from in the future. It also provided me with ideas about how I could carry out my project.

With a focus on the African Continent, I will then make use of ECMWF reanalysis data -ERA5- (earth observations and functions modelling a range of meteorological related changes) and the Universal Thermal Climate Index (UTCI), a model that simulates the body’s response to heat, and look at this with temperature and relative humidity to see how and if heat stress extremes have changed across the continent.

To support policy action, it is also vital to better understand perceptions of heat stress and the risk it carries to people’s livelihoods. By having Ghana as a case study country, stakeholders that are involved in extreme heat impacts and related areas will be interviewed to ascertain how much they perceive heat as a risk. This is important because this impacts adaptation planning and how risk can be communicated effectively for better decisions to be made. I am looking forwards to working with the National Disaster Management Agency (NADMO) in Ghana, long term partners of the Walker Institute who are responsible for ensuring early action before disasters happen.

I am also focusing research effort on better understanding existing policy and action around heat extremes in Uganda. I will be working with the Ministry of Health who collaborate with the Walker Institute on several interdisciplinary projects in Uganda, and supporting the Walker Academy Evidence Synthesis training (focusing on health crises) for the NERC-funded Scenario Doctoral Training Partnership. I will also be collaborating with the Red Cross Climate Center which is responsible for supporting the mobilisation of humanitarian action in Uganda. I will be using the ERA5 data to examine heatwaves in Uganda and when they occurred, which ties into the continent-wide exploration.

I hope that I will be able to go on to look at forecasting heat stress events across Africa, exploring relevant teleconnections and clustering of events.

There is so much potential for future work beyond the scope of my PhD. I really hope that my project, along with other heat extreme research, will raise the profile of heat as a risk to society not just in Africa, but globally. So that it can be funded and researched more widely. I also believe this research could provide a solid basis for a heatwave early warning system.”

We look forward to seeing where Chloe’s PhD project leads and cannot wait to support her on this journey. Keep your eyes peeled for updates about this project on our news pages and on the project page.

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