Climate variability affects water-energy-food infrastructure performance in East Africa

Elsevier, One Earth, Volume 4, 19 March 2021
Siderius C., Kolusu S.R., Todd M.C., Bhave A., Dougill A.J., Reason C.J.C. et al.

The need to assess major infrastructure performance under a changing climate is widely recognized yet rarely practiced, particularly in rapidly growing African economies. Here, we consider high-stakes investments across the water, energy, and food sectors for two major river basins in a climate transition zone in Africa. We integrate detailed interpretation of observed and modeled climate-system behavior with hydrological modeling and decision-relevant performance metrics. For the Rufiji River in Tanzania, projected risks for the mid-21st century are similar to those of the present day, but for the Lake Malawi-Shire River, future risk exceeds that experienced during the 20th century. In both basins a repeat of an early-20th century multi-year drought would challenge the viability of proposed infrastructure. A long view, which emphasizes past and future changes in variability, set within a broader context of climate-information interpretation and decision making, is crucial for screening the risk to infrastructure.