Data Dilemma: Solomon’s Journey to Help Mitigate the Effects of Climate Change

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  • 2019/08/05     Dresden, Germany

    Image: Anika Reetsch/UNU-FLORES

    By Atiqah Fairuz Salleh, Communications and Advocacy

    During his early career back home in Ethiopia, Solomon Gebrechorkos encountered one of his first dilemmas with climate data. As a water and irrigation engineer, he was responsible for the design and construction of hydrological structures such as dams. To design them well, he needed historical data and future scenarios of the climate. However, this information was very difficult for him to get hold of. The outcome: he had to work with what little he had – designs based on limited data and knowledge about what’s to come.

    “You do the best you can with what you have. But if you put limited or bad data in, limited and poor solutions come out of it.”

    When working on his master’s thesis in Hannover, Germany, he again had another brush with data gaps. He did not manage to find sufficient information to perform research on areas related to climate and hydrological modelling in the basins of Ethiopia, even though some station data were provided by the meteorological office.

    These data dilemmas fuelled Solomon to embark on a postgraduate journey in the Joint PhD Programme in the Integrated Management of Water, Soil, and Waste offered by UNU-FLORES and the Technische Universität Dresden. He recognised that to address issues at the nexus of water, soil, and waste at the centre of the programme, the climate data gap needs to be reduced.

    “The successful implementation of the Nexus Approach is only possible if you have enough and accurate information about the area.”

    Solomon’s personal goals were to develop climate information for the long term in East Africa as a basis for studies in climate change and hydrology. He had seen – both from his experiences in academia and practice – how inadequate availability and access to climate information hinders any effort in climate change adaptation and effective management of resources.

    For example, to implement a Water-Soil Nexus solution for a given area, it is crucial to know how much water is available both now and in the future as well as the rate of soil erosion. Climate data, such as precipitation and temperature, is necessary to derive the required information. For the most part, this data is not available and where available, access to it is restricted. This is the very gap that Solomon addressed in his doctoral research.

    “I hope to cover particularly the data gap and improve the understanding of the current and future condition of the climate in the region.”

    East Africa is one of the regions most susceptible to climate change and variability. Having witnessed first-hand how poorly environmental resources, such as water, are managed in East Africa strengthened his resolve. The policy-oriented work at UNU-FLORES helped gear Solomon to also look at his research from the policy perspective.

    Speaking on a panel with other representatives from the UN and regional policymakers in Addis Ababa, Solomon had the opportunity to present his findings to an audience beyond academia. How are they relevant? High-resolution climate projection can help identify hotspot areas, for example, where droughts may be prevalent. This information can support decision making when policymakers have to decide at the local scale on which adaptation measures to take.

    When asked how his stint in Dresden, Germany has prepared him in his current capacity as a research fellow in Southampton, UK, Solomon quipped that the PhD programme has not only given him the knowledge he needs but also instilled in him the self-confidence to tackle global issues, as he embarks now on a major multi-country project with renowned researchers in the field.