Published: Feb. 19, 2020 By
Water collection in Turkana, Kenya

Water collection in Turkana, Kenya. (Credit: CU Boulder)

A CU Boulder and Millennium Water Alliance-led program committed to ending humanitarian drought emergencies in the Horn of Africa has been named one of the Top 100 in the prestigious John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation 100&Change competition, and remains in the running for the competition’s award of a single $100 million grant. 

The Drought Resilience Impact Platform, DRIP, combines the technical leadership of CU Boulder with water security actions taken by the Millennium Water Alliance, national governments, and local communities in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. DRIP will monitor water security in these three countries, create actionable drought forecasts, and incentivize water system operations to ensure that when rains fail, water access is secure and costly drought emergencies are prevented. 

“We are excited to be part of the Top 100 of 100&Change,” said Professor Evan Thomas, the project's Principal Investigator and director of the CU Boulder Mortenson Center in Global Engineering. “DRIP recognizes the increasing severity of drought in the region and the importance of creating and implementing solutions that communities, countries and partners can use to end drought emergencies.” 

DRIP Theory of Change leads to water security during drought, ending emergencies.

DRIP Theory of Change: Water & food security monitoring, drought and groundwater forecasting, pay-for-performance contracting, and safe water supply operation and maintenance leads to water security during drought, ending emergencies. (Credit: CU Boulder) 

More than one billion people in the world lack access to clean drinking water, according to Thomas. Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia deal with frequent and increasingly severe droughts.

“Millions of people in the Horn of Africa are affected by droughts in terms of food insecurity and high malnutrition rates. The women are walking longer distances for water, and we have seen borehole water levels going down,” said Doris Kaberia, Kenya director of the Millennium Water Alliance, a nonprofit consortium of safe drinking water and sanitation-related charities. 

Drought emergencies occur when reduced rainfall combines with limited community capacity and institutional failures to cause dramatic reductions in access to water for people, livestock and agriculture. Humanitarian relief usually comes in when a drought emergency has already occurred, costing billions of dollars. 

DRIP’s comprehensive systems design integrates early detection and planning with proactive groundwater management to ensure water availability, enabling drought-prone communities to become effective managers in the prevention of these humanitarian crises. It replaces expensive short-term assistance measures like water trucking, with a framework for drought resilience. In this way, DRIP seeks to empower these communities to increase their drought resilience and water security, helping to preserve their livelihoods and well-being, said Jason Neff, DRIP collaborator, professor in environmental studies and director of the CU Boulder Sustainability Innovation Lab at Colorado (SILC). 

DRIP will provide technical expertise and performance-based funding to local partners in the arid regions of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia, operating through national level partnerships with the Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Irrigation and Energy, the Somaliland State Ministry of Water Resources Development, and the Kenya National Drought Management Authority. 

“DRIP can guarantee water security for tens of millions of people, in spite of recurrent drought,” said Thomas.

DRIP in context

CU Boulder faculty inspecting groundwater sources in northern Kenya
Evan Thomas takes notes while inspecting groundwater sources in northern Kenya

Top and bottom: CU Boulder faculty inspecting groundwater sources in northern Kenya. (Credit: CU Boulder) 

DRIP builds directly on other current CU Boulder-led work in the region. The USAID Sustainable WASH Systems Learning Partnership, led by DRIP collaborators Karl Linden, professor in environmental engineering, Amy Javernick-Will, professor in construction engineering management, and Daniel Hollander, director of the partnership, studies systems-based strategies to keep water and sanitation services running in East Africa.

Several other USAID supported projects use satellite connected sensors managed by CU Boulder collaborators to monitor water supplies for more than 3 million people on a daily basis in Kenya and Ethiopia. This includes the Millennium Water Alliance-led Kenya RAPID project, which is monitoring all of the emergency drought boreholes in northern Kenya and working with the National Drought Management Authority to use this data to reduce drought emergencies. As members of the NASA and USAID SERVIR Applied Sciences Team, CU Boulder is linking these sensors with satellite data to improve drought and water demand forecasts in the region. 

DRIP was recently named an inaugural member of the Million Lives Club - recognizing that the effort has already positively impacted more than a million people. The Moore Foundation has also provided funding to CU Boulder to apply the DRIP framework to improve drought resilience and water conservation in the western United States. 

The Top 100 proposals were rigorously vetted, undergoing MacArthur’s initial administrative review, a peer-to-peer review, an evaluation by an external panel of judges, and a technical review by specialists whose expertise was matched to the project. The 100&Change competition will award a $100 million grant this fall to one of the Top 100 proposals that will help solve one of the world's most critical social challenges.

MacArthur’s Bold Solutions Network also launched today, featuring DRIP as one of the Top 100 from 100&Change. The Bold Solutions Network will showcase the highest-rated proposals that emerge from the competitions which MacArthur’s Lever for Change organization manages.

Other collaborators include Edie Zagona, director of the CU Boulder Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems (CADSWES); Ben Livneh, associate professor in Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering; Claire Monteleoni, associate professor in Computer Science; Amy McNally at the USAID and NASA supported Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET); Roger Pulwarty at the NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory and the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS); and Denis Macharia at the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development (RCMRD) in Nairobi, Kenya.