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The WASCAL project - a concerted response to climate change

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The BMBF-funded West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) project is a large project being conducted by UNU-EHS together with a variety of German, African and international project partners. Dr. Fabrice Renaud, WASCAL focal point at UNU-EHS, talks in this interview about the project´s settings and details.

You are currently involved in a project called WASCAL. What does it stand for?
WASCAL stands for West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use. It is an initiative of the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF), which is investing quite a considerable amount of money in Africa, both in Western Africa and Southern Africa.  The WASCAL Project is for West Africa. It is coordinated by the University of Bonn by Prof. Vlek, and we are a partner in this initiative.
What is special about WASCAL?
The originality of this initiative is that it is there to build up scientific competences in West Africa in particular. This does not only mean building them but also tapping into the existing competences so that there can be joint research on critical areas of climate change and adapted land use in the region.
Which West African countries are involved?
The countries covered by the project include francophone countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, as well as Anglophone countries such as Gambia, Ghana, and Nigeria.
Why West Africa?
This region is suffering from land degradation processes as well as from the consequences of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that climate change will affect most of Africa and in particular sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel region, and it will do so in various ways. Therefore, it is important to put this competence center in place in Western Africa so that in the longer run there can be increased local capacities and infrastructures to tackle this problematic from the local level.
This is where UNU-EHS comes in. What is your role in this big project?
Our role is linked to a work package that is called “Risk Assessment and Analysis”. The expertise of UNU-EHS will be used to capture the vulnerabilities of communities or systems that are exposed to environmental threats. We are going to concentrate on the vulnerability of what we call coupled social-ecological systems, principally in rural areas. Looking both at the social and the environmental issues, we will see how they are going to be affected by the consequences of climate change, be it heat waves or higher frequencies and magnitudes of droughts and floods and offer scientifically-based suggestions for adaptation.
How are you going to do it and who are your partners?
It is going to be done as a research component in partnership with many African colleagues and with UNU-INRA, our sister institute based in Accra, Ghana. We hope to be able to do some good research there, with post-doctoral positions and PhD positions.

Interview: Oksana Buranbaeva , UNU-ViE

Jessica Rosenfeld and Isabel Thompson contributed to this interview.

Published: 1 February 2012

Dr. Fabrice Renaud

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Dr. Renaud has been with UNU-EHS since September 2004 and heads the Environmental Vulnerability and Ecosystem Services Section. He served as Director ad interim of the Institute from August 2009 to May 2011. At UNU-EHS, he is responsible for carrying out research on and developing concepts and projects dealing with the environmental dimension of vulnerability, with the resilience of social-ecological systems to external shocks, with water pollution and human and ecosystem exposure to such pollution, and land degradation processes particularly in the context of climate change.

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