MSc students finish fieldwork in Kitui, Kenya

MSc students finish fieldwork in Kitui, Kenya

We are two students, Julia van Haaster and Marijke van Benschop, doing fieldwork research in Kenya for our master thesis as part of the Environment & Resource Management master’s at the VU Amsterdam. In the past month we collaborated with Africa Wood Grow, a Dutch-Kenyan NGO providing afforestation in the region of Kitui, Kenya. Here, we talked to many affiliated farmers about their experiences with creating agroforestry plots on their lands together with AWG.
Julia researches the improvements in livelihood resilience these agroforestry projects could foster by interviewing farmers. Marijke investigates the potential hydrological effects of planting trees such as improved water retention, absorption and infiltration. She does so by interviewing farmers and conducting hydrological data on parameters like the infiltration rate, moisture rate and pH rate of different plots.

The fieldwork was not only a very educative experience but also provided a unique view into the life of rural farmers who welcomed us with open arms.

PerfectSTORM at EGU

PerfectSTORM at EGU

We will be presenting our research at the General Assembly of the European Geosciences Union this week. Don’t miss our talks on drought and floods!

On Tuesday, Marlies Barendrecht will be presenting some of our findings on the case study in Kitui, Kenya in a PICO presentation from 10:45 tot 12:30 at PICO spot 4.

On Wednesday, from 14:10 to 14:20 in Room 1.15/16, Anne van Loon will give a talk about nature based solutions to drought and floods in the Limpopo basin.

On Thursday, from 17:05 to 17:15 in room B, Alessia Matanó will present her work on how a drought can influence flood dynamics.

We hope to see you there!

Scoping Peru

If rivers could speak

If rivers could speak, what stories would they tell? If rivers could speak, how could we best listen to what they want to say?

In November 2022, we visited Iquitos, Peru for scoping fieldwork. In this scoping fieldwork, we wanted to start conversations and ask about how communities experienced previous droughts and floods, more specifically what they did to prepare and to adapt, and how such events impacted their communities. Here, we take you on a journey of what we found and heard during our visit to communities who depend on the Amazon river.

Amazon River

We visited communities from Belén, Punchana, and Tamshiyacu. These areas are three different districts in the Loreto region which is home to families relying on different sources of livelihood, and who rely on the Amazon river for transportation, food, and as a way of life.

During our transect walk in Belén, representatives from Servicio Nacional de Meteorología e Hidrología del Perú (SENAMHI) (National Meteorology and Hydrology Service of Peru) shared how some flood events can last up to six months. During these months, communities have to use boats to go around, and use schools as evacuation centers. The communities also experienced different issues such as piling up of solid waste, and emergence of diseases like dengue and malaria.

This is an example of floating houses in Belén. Several community members who live closer to the river started building floating houses, so that they don’t need to evacuate nor to keep building taller stilts to protect themselves and their belongings during flood events.

In Punchana, we held a focus group discussion with 11 women representatives who shared their experiences about previous flood and drought events. In 2013, there was a major flood and this prompted the local government to ask communities to relocate to a new area farther from the city. Several community members considered this option, however the proposed relocation area only had minimal access to social services and facilities like schools and clinics. Community members explored other options to augment issues with potable water such as making and using pozos (wells), buying water from containers, and maximizing the three available communal faucets.

In Tamshiyacu, several households earn from agricultural activities such as planting rice along riverbanks, and intercropping of different fruit trees. However, sudden river peaks during the dry season impact the rice areas planted along the riverbanks. The communities are also impacted by the extended dry season. The extended dry season causes increasing cases of forest fires and also impacts the fishing activities.

How do we continue listening

These are only snippets of how the Amazon river has shaped people’s ways of living. As part of the PerfectSTORM project, we are interested to better understand and unpack water-human relationships, especially in the context of living with drought and flood. This April to July, we will continue to listen to communities who have seen the rivers change and who have lived with its extremes. We will also continue to explore ways of listening to the rivers. To do so, the fieldwork will focus on using ethnographic approaches such as storytelling and transect walks to enable stories and narratives to emerge. 

Eventually, we hope to share with you what stories the Amazon river might tell, and how living with(out) waters has been like for communities in the area.

If you are interested to helpIf you or someone you know also works in Iquitos, Perú on a similar or related topic, you can send us an email to Heidi Mendoza (

Fieldwork Kenya

Fieldwork in the Tiva basin, Kenya

Ruben, one of our PhD researchers, has just finalised his 4-month fieldwork in the Tiva river basin, Kenya! Starting in November 2022, he has studied drought and flood experiences through storytelling and surveying, with over 400 participants. We also established citizen science collaborations to do hydrological measurements. Big thanks to our partners Africa Wood Grow, SASOL, and SEKU for guidance and support. To read more about our work in Kenya, check

Ruben Weesie with John Nam Timothy, one of our citizen scientists closely monitoring a raingauge

Collaborative Panta Rhei paper on drought and flood led by Heidi Kreibich

Collaborative Panta Rhei paper on drought and flood led by Heidi Kreibich

This paper on “The challenge of unprecedented floods and droughts in risk management” led by Heidi Kreibich, uses empirical data from 45 paired droughts & floods showing that for unprecedented events risk management is challenging.

In 80% of cases vulnerability was reduced and in 70% management was improved between events. But still impacts were higher in 30% of cases, due to a combination of more severe hazard & higher exposure. For example, Cape Town, despite improved water demand management, the extreme long & severe drought led to higher impacts.

In 80% of cases vulnerability was reduced, in 70% management was improved between events. Still impacts were higher in 30% of cases, due to higher hazard & exposure. For example Cape Town: despite improved water demand management, the extreme long & severe drought led to higher impacts.

We also found an important difference between #floods and #droughts. Changes in vulnerability have been less successful in reducing drought impact than flood impact. Could be due to underlying and compounding factors and spillover effects of risk management. In one case in the Netherlands for example, increased irrigation to reduce agricultural drought impacts caused increased ecological impacts.

We found important differences between floods & droughts. Drought impacts were less reduced by changes in vulnerability than flood impacts. This could be due to spillover effects, for example increased irrigation to reduce agricultural drought impacts caused increased ecological impacts.

Showing the limits to infrastructure. In unprecedented droughts and floods, reservoirs and levees are insufficient resulting in higher damages because of increased dependence on this infrastructure. Non-structural measures help, but removing all risk is an illusion for severe events. Flexible management strategies and coping measures will be needed.

We found 3 success factors in cases with reduced impacts despite increased hazard: (1) effective governance of risk & emergency management, including transnational collaboration; (2) high investments in structural & non-structural measures; (3) improved early warning & real-time control systems. But, no success stories for drought…

Streamflow droughts aggravated by human activities despite management

Streamflow droughts aggravated by human activities despite management

In this paper in published in Environmental Research Letters: “Streamflow droughts aggravated by human activities despite management”, we investigated the influence of human activities on streamflow drought in the complexity of real world cases, using observation data, qualitative expert assessment, consistent drought analysis, and statistics.

We found that groundwater and surface water abstractions aggravate streamflow droughts (between +20% and +305% for total time in drought, and up to +3000% for total deficit), water inflows alleviate them (up to -97% for total time and total deficit), and reservoirs both aggravate and alleviate (-26 to +38% for average duration and -86 to +369% for average deficit). Land use change had a smaller impact, with both increases and decreases (−48 to +98%).

Percentage change in drought characteristics (average duration, total time, average deficit, total deficit) between human-influenced and naturalised droughts. Case studies are ordered by human-influence category and Total deficit.

We also saw that in cases with water abstraction almost all drought events were aggravated, also when there was water management that explicitly aimed to reduce streamflow droughts. This only helped during extreme low flow events, but not during other relatively dry periods.

For water storage and release cases (reservoirs), this was different. Reservoirs change the seasonality of flow and therefore cause both aggravation and alleviation of streamflow drought downstream. Also the reservoirs that release water for downstream use had slightly more alleviated droughts compared to those that did not explicitly release for downstream.

Aggravation and alleviation of streamflow droughts by human-influence categories abstraction (AB), water transfer (WT), water storage and release (SR), land use change (LU). Primary (grey shaded) and additional categories of case studies, including abstraction from groundwater (G), surface water (S) and both (GS). Downstream water use is indicated with DW.

The statistical analysis showed that:

  • abstraction cases with water transfer / downstream water use did NOT show a significant difference in human influence on drought compared to cases without water inputs;
  • reservoirs that released water for downstream water use (for agriculture, flood control, public water supply) still mainly showed aggravation of drought;
  • urbanisation effects on streamflow drought are potentially compensated by sewage return flows, pipe leakage & other human inflows.

And also that:

  • there was no statistical relation between human influence on drought and the number of purposes, suggesting that multi-purpose reservoirs do not have more influence on streamflow drought;
  • there was no relation with purpose of the abstracted water (agriculture, drinking water supply, energy production, etc.) or source of abstraction (groundwater and/or surface water);
  • overall effect of human activities on streamflow droughts is independent of catchment characteristics or climate region (not more influence in drier regions);
  • only amount of abstraction (estimate of the ratio of abstraction to mean annual flow) could explain the differences in influence on drought characteristics;
  • effects of land use change are hard to untangle, because in urbanized or agricultural catchments many other human activities take place and the land use effects cannot be isolated with data-based methods in case studies.

We based this conclusions on the analysis of 28 empirical cases, collected as a group effort by the IAHS Panta Rhei ‘Drought in the Anthropocene’ group. With these case studies we can investigate the complexity of real world cases and include qualitative expert knowledge of the human-water interactions in the area. This could be very useful information for model studies that have to rely on patchy data and uncertain assumptions about human-water interactions.

Twenty eight case studies, distributed (a) across the globe and (b) Europe, with a diversity of (c) mean annual temperature, (d) annual precipitation, (e) catchment area, (f) human-influence categories, and (g) water/land use purposes.

We did this in a combination of re-analysis of existing cases and analysis of new cases, because it was impossible to compare results from published literature. In the table below you see the diversity in methodologies and choices made in the drought analysis and reporting of results. Studies used standardised indices or threshold methods, they used a different level to define droughts, and they used a different reference in the calculations (f.e. was the reference recalculated for the human-influenced time series or not, see how this underestimates the human influence on drought in this paper by Sally Rangecroft). Most studies only analysed a single case or a limited number of cases (2, 3 or 6). And studies that do a comparison between cases are always done in the same region with relatively similar climate and catchment characteristics and human activities. We wanted to analyse more cases and also with more diversity in region and activities.

Therefore, we used a consistent methodology to define drought with an 80th percentile monthly threshold on human-influenced and benchmark streamflow timeseries. The benchmark timeseries were obtained with one of three approaches: paired-catchment, upstream-downstream, and naturalized-observed. Then classified into human drought types: (a) 100% human-alleviated drought (i.e. prevented drought); (b) human-alleviated drought; (c) human-aggravated drought; and (d) 100% human-aggravated drought (i.e. human-induced drought).

We see this paper as an important first step in global-scale comparison of observation-based cases on the human influence on streamflow drought. This collection of cases will be included as IAHS Panta Rhei benchmark dataset. The data are available here.

This paper was very much a group effort! This is the list of collaborators and co-authors: Sally Rangecroft, Gemma Coxon, Micha Werner, Niko Wanders, Giuliano Di Baldassarre, Erik Tijdeman, Marianne Bosman, Tom Gleeson, Alexandra Nauditt, Amir Aghakouchak, Jose Agustin Breña-Naranjo, Omar Cenobio-Cruz, Alexandre Cunha Costa, Miriam Fendekova, Graham Jewitt, Daniel Kingston, Jessie Loft, Sarah Mager, Iman Mallakpour, Ilyas Masih, Héctor Maureira-Cortés, Elena Toth, Pieter Van Oel, Floris Van Ogtrop, Koen Verbist, Jean-Philippe Vidal, Li Wen, Meixiu Yu, Xing Yuan, Miao Zhang and Henny Van Lanen The process started many years ago at AGU 2014 with Henny Van Lanen, brainstorming about a student project. Then Sally joined the new research team @ Birmingham in 2015. Then, in 2016, our first Panta Rhei Drought in the Anthropocene workshop in Birmingham. Then many years of data collection and analysis, many discussions at EGU conferences. Then (in between several job switches of the core team & two years of pandemic) many iterations of text and figures. Then one rejection and many major revisions. But finally the paper is there. What a journey!