TitleWater, Growth and Poverty in AfricaQuantifying the role of climate

          variability for targeted development assistance


PI:  Casey Brown


Funder:  Columbia University Earth Institute’s Cross Cutting Initiative


Scope of the Project: Recent studies by the World Bank (World Bank, 2004) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (Brown and Lall, 2006) have provided striking evidence of the link between the economic development of nations and the variability of their climate. These results imply that economic development can be hampered by what Grey and Sadoff (2006) term difficult hydrology - characterized by high levels of hydro-climatic variability (e.g. high frequency of floods and droughts, dramatic seasonal variations). Such variability marks the African continent more than any other region in the world, yet is often an overlooked impediment to economic growth and seldom discussed in country assistance strategies.   Climate change is expected to produce increased variability.  This proposal will bring together a multidisciplinary team of Earth Institute researchers and development agency professionals from the World Bank and IUCN to create an indicator for use in development planning that quantifies the effect of climate on development.  This effort will position the EI team to attract sustainable research funding from the World Bank and bilateral development agencies (eg., SIDA) as the influential World Bank participants communicate the value of the research outcomes to the development community.


In general, investments in the water sector (in both infrastructure and management) may help better achieve reliable water supply (for productive uses - agriculture, industry, urban) and protection from these extreme and uncertain climate events. That is, such investments can help countries achieve 'water security'. The magnitude and types of investment needed to achieve this water security is dependent on the degree of difficult hydrology and the vulnerability of the economy and populace to the climate variability. Moreover, without a minimum level of water security, a country may not be able to produce significant sustainable returns from development investments nor break the inertia of stagnant economic growth. Furthermore, they are likely to be more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  What this minimum level of resilience is, and how it differs from country to country, has yet to be determined. Further research is needed to (1) evaluate the role of climate variability in the productivity of nations and (2) develop a methodology to measure country resilience to water variability and the related economic vulnerabilities. The focus here is initially on Africa (although easily transferable to other regions). Moreover, understanding these linkages to broad-based macroeconomic improvements is critical to country assistance strategies and sector strategies. The aim is to develop these concepts to help guide the prioritization and selection of strategies in the water sector for Africa.  This proof of concept will then be leveraged for support by the World Bank, bilaterals and regional development banks for further global and country level analyses that guide development investments.



Brown, C. and U. Lall, 2006.  Water and Development: the role of variability and a framework for resilience, Natural Resources Forum, 30, 306-317.

Grey, D. and C. Sadoff, 2006.  Water for Growth and Development: A theme document for the 4th World Water Forum, The World Bank: Washington D. C.

Sachs, J., 2001.  Tropical Underdevelopment, National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper, 8119, 1-37.

World Bank, 2004.  Towards a Water Secure Kenya, Water Resources Sector Memorandum, the World Bank: Washington D.C.