UNU-EHS capacity-building efforts in the Sahel

  • 2019•12•16     Niger

    © UNU-EHS / Austin Gonzales

    Although the RARSUS project will officially be closed at the year’s end, already one important decision has been made regarding its future. In November, at the closing workshop in Niamey, Niger, partners unanimously agreed that one of the project’s capacity-building components, the e-learning knowledge platform hosted by UNU-EHS, would remain available for learners.

    Brought to life in 2017, RARSUS (Risk Assessment and Reduction Strategies for Sustainable Urban Resource Supply in Sub-Saharan Africa) is a direct response to the threats of resource depletion and climate change on food, water, and energy security in Africa’s Sahel region. Using Niamey and Bamako, Mali as case studies, the project assesses the risks to supply chains, taking into account those threats, and turns the research collected into learning material for master’s students from partner universities.

    In Niamey, the capital city of Niger, illustrations of the human security challenges are drawn clear. Unequal distribution of water, transportation bottlenecks and lack of proper storage facilities greatly hinder access to adequate food and water supply. Droughts and floods cause added stress to the surrounding agricultural industry, which is trying to keep up with the city of 1.2 million, and growing. For the local population, options are limited, forcing them to migrate to greener pastures.

    Director of the Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research, Professor Jakob Rhyner, who helped initiate the project during his time as director of UNU-EHS, was on hand in Niamey. “The needs here are really huge and are really dramatic. But it’s not only the needs and the problems that are great but also the options and the possibilities we have,” he said. RARSUS is unique in that it elaborates on threats like climate change to sustainable resource supply and applies it to research and education.

    The task of UNU-EHS in the project was to lead the capacity-building phase, which required adapting the research garnered in the field into content for both in-person and online lectures. Together the partners’ efforts culminated in six self-paced e-learning courses and an online summer academy held in early October.

    Hosting the summer academy was not without its own set of challenges, which included adapting content to both French and English, meeting the high demand for participation from students, holding lectures with participants in different time zones and most critically, securing a reliable internet connection.

    “Internet connection, especially for the African participants was a serious problem. Because of that, some participants dropped off the training. However, a good number of them stayed on until the end,” said project lead Dr. Emmanuel Cheo.

    In all, 46 students, coming from Algeria, Mali, Niger and Germany, successfully completed the summer academy. The format integrated webinars with contributions from experts across the world, including Canada, Iceland, Kenya and the United States. Students were able to choose from two separate water and energy tracks, with a variety of courses ranging from spatial planning in urban water management to resilient energy supply infrastructure.

    “The first objective was just to test the platform to see if it could be used as an alternative method for capacity building and so its ability to reach out to a large audience was a big success,” said Cheo.

    The continued availability of the online learning platform means that RARSUS should be able to continue to reel in wider audiences as the resource will be available to students of partnering institutions, anywhere and anytime.

    Professor Adamou Rabani of Abdou Moumouni University said, “These online resources are available for all the partners and for all African partner institutions, this is very important.”

    The decision of the partners to leave the online courses available meets the projects long term ambition to close a research and education gap in the area of sustainable urban resource supply on the continent, even as the project comes to an end.

    The RARSUS project will run until the end of the year before coming to a close. More information on the project can be found here, information on the online courses here, and browse through our Photo Essay here.