Africa's population is the fastest-growing in the world. Over the next two decades, the continent will account for nearly half of global population growth. For this very reason, when disaster strikes on the continent, its effect on human lives and livelihoods is very often extremely serious, disrupting and undermining development. Informal settlement fires in Africa's rapidly growing cities spread quickly and lead to deaths and property loss. Flash floods frequently claim many lives and displace thousands from their homes. And as the COVID-19 pandemic has again shown, when disease outbreaks occur, the continent's public health systems struggle to cope.
For this reason, Periperi U – a platform for university partnerships to reduce disaster risk in Africa – has since 2006 been coordinating and pooling the expertise of higher education institutions across the continent to reduce local vulnerability and build resilience. From a 2005 pilot with four institutions from Algeria, Ethiopia, South Africa and Tanzania, the Periperi U network (an acronym for “Partners Enhancing Resilience for People Exposed to Risks") has grown to 12 universities from Algiers to Antanarivo, now also including institutions in Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal and Uganda.
According to Alberto Francioli, project manager at the Periperi U secretariat hosted at Stellenbosch University (SU), the network fills the disaster risk research gap on the continent. “Many African countries do not have scientific institutions or research centres such as the South African CSIR, to whom governments can reach out to get a better understanding of issues such as the risk posed by floods or disease, for instance. In those countries, the only ones that can provide this research are higher education institutions." This is why Periperi U's work includes advocating for greater investment in Africa's higher education institutions, along with offering training in disaster risk reduction, and conducting research that builds local disaster risk knowledge and preparedness. The success of the network, which is financially supported by USAID, recently earned it recognition as an International Centre of Excellence for Risk Education and Learning (ICoE-REaL) from the global research programme Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (IRDR).
As befits a centre of excellence, Periperi U was quick to lend a hand in curbing the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic once it reached African shores. The network has focused its contribution on raising awareness among its partner universities and in their various local communities. “Most of our partners have developed online platforms that share information on how to combat the coronavirus, how to reduce its spread, daily updates on infections, and where to go in case of emergencies, particularly in countries that do not have ready access to local and international news," says Alberto. “Other partners have also developed outreach programmes that aim to serve their communities." In addition, most Periperi U member institutions are providing essential services and guidance to district and rural populations, who often do not receive as much attention as their inner-city counterparts.
Alberto cites a few examples. “Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya, owns a textile factory called Rivatex, who is manufacturing 15 000 masks daily that are being procured by hospitals and other institutions in the region. Over in Uganda, the Periperi U team at Makerere University, whose major focus is research and outreach relating to refugee health, have helped develop the local coronavirus resource centre. And in Stellenbosch, the team from the Research Alliance for Disaster and Risk Reduction (RADAR) at SU have been collaborating with provincial and national disaster management authorities to help develop content for online training and short courses to respond to and address the COVID-19 risk. They are also collecting data, keeping a timeline and documenting changes, developments and impacts as the crisis unfolds to enable a proper post-event analysis."
For more on how Periperi U is making science work for society, contact Alberto at email@example.com or 021 808 9401.
Photo: Periperi U secretariat Staff at Stellenbosch University (SU). From the right : Alberto Francioli, Mujahid Gabier and Carinus De Kock.