The great lakes region of tropical East Africa has been a magnet for human occupation and settlement since the evolution of our species because of conditions favorable to agriculture, an abundance of fish, an apparent surplus of fresh water, relatively tolerable climatic conditions, and an aesthetically pleasing landscape. However the region remains among the most underdeveloped in the world despite these natural advantages and despite the presence of 25% of the world's surface water resources in its great lakes. Human population growth in the region averages 3% per year and is substantially higher near lakeshores, fish populations are plummeting in response to over fishing and environmental stress, lake levels and outflows to Africa's three largest rivers shift dramatically from year to year as a result of a near-but-teetering balance between fresh water input and evaporative loss, ground water supply and quality are deteriorating, soil erosion is depleting soil fertility, and other aspects of environmental degradation, resulting from high dependence on direct utilization of natural resources, are threatening the lake ecosystems, local water supplies, agricultural productivity, and human welfare. Investigators will meet as a team during the coming year to develop an interdisciplinary research plan for water sustainability and climate in the Lake Malawi basin, which on the one hand typifies much of the great lakes region of tropical East Africa, but on the other lies precariously close to the southern Africa rainfall regime, which is predicted to become more arid with future climate change. The team will develop a set of hypotheses in the context of theoretical frameworks that encompass over-arching issues of forcing, response, and feedbacks in the areas of climate, water, and human activity. They plan two meetings: the first in Minnesota where they will address key questions and identify additional information and data that need to be collected in time for a second meeting to be held 3-4 months later in Malawi to formulate a proposal for a WSC Category II project in the following year. While this project will focus on the Malawi basin, the results will be applicable to most of tropical East Africa, where the conditions of climate and society are quite similar. While this planning phase of their research plan does not involve students, their goal is to succeed in developing a funded, five-year research program that will involve American students working with them and their Malawi colleagues in East Africa, as well as creating opportunities for African faculty and students to be involved with all aspects of the research. This will contribute to capacity building in the African scientific community.
WSC - Category 1:Water Sustainability and Climate in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa