Southern Africa‘s hydro-economy and water security (SAHEWS)

What is the challenge?

Water security in southern Africa encapsulates global pressures on water: rapid population growth, chronic and drought-induced episodic food shortage, growing water scarcity and energy security problems coincident with rising demand, transboundary and regional allocation issues, and a strongly variable climate that will likely become drier and more variable in the future. These challenges are exacerbated by political, institutional and economic factors, including limited management and regulatory capacity, and highly inequitable access to reliable potable water.

Key research questions

IFPRI’s contribution to this research consortium focuses on the link between climate variability, seasonal forecasting and economic impacts on water, food and energy security. Key research questions include:

  • What are the overall economy impacts of changes in the performance skill of seasonal climate forecasts?
  • What are the impacts of climate variability on water and food security and hydropower production in southern Africa?
  • What adaptation strategies can reduce these impacts?

Basic information about the activity

This research seeks to improve understanding of the drivers of short to medium term hydro-meteorological variability, its socioeconomic consequences and develop approaches for improved water resources management in southern Africa under uncertainty. The collaboration addresses important knowledge gaps in water supply, demand and sharing, and in the application of research to the effective management of water security. Hydro-meteorological variability is large and spatially extensive such that prolonged floods and droughts cause macro-scale socioeconomic impacts yet these are poorly understood. Seasonal forecasts show greater skill for southern Africa relative to many other regions but reliability and skill remain important constraints as do scale, legitimacy, cognitive capacity, procedural and institutional barriers and available choices.  Project activities assess and refine seasonal forecasts for water supply and demand, model the socioeconomic consequences of hydro-meteorological variability and develop knowledge transfer techniques. Case studies apply selected techniques to various topics, such as the demand for seasonal forecasting in association with the recent El Niño.


  • London School of Economics, United Kingdom
  • University of East Anglia, United Kingdom
  • Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, South Africa
  • KULIMA, South Africa




Claudia Ringler 
Deputy Division Director & Natural Resource Management Theme Lead
Environment and Production Technology Division


This project is funded under the Belmont Forum Freshwater Program; the IFPRI portion is funded the US National Science Foundation and implemented under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).