Creative Drought

Creative experiments for building resilience to future drought in Africa


Drought events cause severe water and food insecurities in many developing countries. In many of these countries resilience to drought is low for a myriad of reasons, including poverty, unequal political and social structures, limited access to information, and problems adapting traditional knowledge to changing situations. In the CreativeDrought project we aim to increase drought resilience by combining local indigenous knowledges with scientific methods. With a multi-disciplinary research team, we developed an interdisciplinary approach that:

  1. collects existing drought narratives (i.e. stories about past drought events) and other useful local knowledges,

  2. develops hypothetical future drought scenarios with a hydrological model (verified with local communities),

  3. organises creative experimentation workshops in which communities build future drought narratives based on the narratives and model scenarios, and finally,

  4. embeds the outcomes of these workshops in local water management.

This new approach needs to be tested in a pilot project. The pilot study area we have selected is the Limpopo Basin in South Africa, a rural area, with a dry and irregular climate, traditional dryland farming systems, and limited effective water management. The region is currently experiencing a severe drought, related to below normal rainfall in two consecutive rainy seasons, and leading to major impacts on local communities in terms of food and water. We will conduct interviews and group sessions, based around narrative elicitation, with various groups within local communities in the Limpopo Province. In this way we will learn about the experience, perspective and cultural significance of drought events.

We will build on this knowledge to develop hypothetical future scenarios with a hydrological model by extrapolating the narrated droughts to outside their historic range. The communities can then use their own experience and the modelling scenarios to experiment with stories about possible future drought events and possible effective ways of responding to them. Through this experimentation they can build up experience of dealing with droughts that are outside the range of previous drought events. This way of increasing resilience to drought is regarded as robust because it uses scientific methods, is culturally embedded and bottom-up. It also ensures that the perspectives of different members of the community are heard and incorporated. Finally, we work with local authorities to make sure the future drought narratives that the communities have developed will feed into official decision-making processes.

Watch project leader Dr Anne van Loon talk about Droughts in the Anthropocene in 2016.