Djibouti this week inaugurated a research observatory to study the impact of climate change. The observatory, established with the assistance of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), will help the country prone to drought and famine to better manage water and food resources that are increasingly under threat from global warming. The new facility, the Regional Research Observatory on the Environment and Climate (RROEC), will use nuclear and related techniques to produce data and climate models that can inform political decisions on climate adaptation and resilience for the country, and potentially for the whole East African region.
“Thanks to the IAEA and other partners, this Observatory became a reality – we are able to put in place reliable and operational models for climate change adaptation and lasting resilience,” said the President of the Republic of Djibouti and Head of the Government Ismaïl Omar Guelleh during the opening ceremony on 23 October, which was attended also by President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and other high-level representatives from the region including from Comoros, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda.
Facing water scarcity due to low levels of precipitation, Djibouti’s population of one million is highly vulnerable to climate change and the country imports nearly all of its food. Higher temperatures, increased aridity, water scarcity and rising sea levels are expected to continue to affect the country.
The Observatory was inaugurated at the Climate Change and Research Conference held from 23 to 25 October, where scientists, students, researchers and decision makers from the East African region discussed regional environmental and climate issues. Over three days, they shared best practices and identified opportunities to initiate collaboration under the newly opened RROEC. The Observatory will in the future build and extend capacity to the whole East African region, where food scarcity caused by changes in climate has become a widespread challenge.
Some of the factors causing this situation are chronic droughts, floods, tropical cyclones and pest invasions. According to available research, if poor seasonal rainfall continues throughout this year, an unprecedented drought in the Horn of Africa, combined with famine, could be imminent. Also, if the temperature rises by 2°C compared with pre-industrial levels, over 90% of East African coral reefs are projected to be severely degraded by bleaching, and African marine and freshwater fisheries will be significantly threatened.
“The burden of climate change falls disproportionately on the most vulnerable among us. Here in Djibouti, and across Africa, higher temperatures, droughts, and rising sea levels threaten lives and livelihoods,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi during his opening speech. Referring to RROEC, he said: “I am delighted that the IAEA was able to make it happen. But we will not stop here, we will continue to assist Djibouti to achieve its priorities including its climate change adaptation goals.”
The RROEC will use information from isotopes — elements with specific physical and chemical properties — to produce climate models and mapping tools. It will track, among others, the origin of air masses that bring rain, groundwater replenishment rates, and the movement of water through the hydrological cycle. Such information can be used by governments and aid agencies to assist with the management and prevention of water crises or other environmental crises.
For example, isotopes data can be used to produce groundwater vulnerability maps that can inform decision makers about water availability in the aquifers. This information can support management of aquifers, increase awareness about water quality and scarcity, and improve warning systems on droughts and floods in Djibouti and the Horn of Africa.
RROEC has been built with the help of the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme, which supported training programmes, expert activities and the supply of state-of-the-art laboratory equipment. The Observatory is operated by local staff, who have been trained by the IAEA on various nuclear applications related to climate change and adaptation matters.
Environmental protection and climate change is one of the areas identified in the Country Programme Framework signed between Djibouti and the IAEA for the years 2022–2027. This framework is the reference for the medium-term planning of technical cooperation between a Member State and the IAEA, and identifies priority areas where the transfer of nuclear technology through the technical cooperation programme will be directed to support national development priorities.
Between 2012 and 2020, the IAEA supported 120 countries in climate adaptation projects, many of them in Africa. The Agency attends the annual United Nations Climate Change Conferences, more commonly referred to the Conference of the Parties, or COP, and organizes several events to highlight how nuclear technology and applications contribute to tackling climate change. The next COP is starting on 6 November in Egypt. You can read more here.