Effectiveness of Drought Warning Communication & Dissemination in Malawi

MASTER’S THESIS: “A review of the Effectiveness of Drought Warning Communication and Dissemination in Malawi”


The aim of this research is to understand how effective drought warning dissemination and communication in Malawi is in triggering and early action for end users. End-users in this thesis consisted of small-scale farmers and humanitarian/non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the Salima and Mangochi districts in Malawi. Effectiveness relies on whether the approach adopted is human-centred. This study analysed whether the system developed is tailor-made to meet end-users needs and has helped trigger an early action.


Alexia completed this research as part of her MSc in Water Management and Governance at IHE Delft. Through herstudies and work she often saw that projects or programmes are not necessarily effective due to a misalignment with local needs. As such, she wanted to carry out a research to help bridge this gap, and demonstrate the importance of tailor-made systems.


Droughts are context-specific and complex hazards that are difficult to identify and to communicate.  As a result, compared to direct hazards such as floods, limited research has been carried out on how to effectively communicate and disseminate drought early warnings. This has led to a limited uptake of drought warning with an increased impacts on lives, livelihoods and the environment.

Malawi is prone to droughts and even though it has developed a drought warning system, very limited information exists on the drought early warning communication and dissemination. Through this research, challenges and recommendations could be highlighted to improve the uptake on drought warnings in Malawi by farmers and as such improve their livelihoods and ability to cope with this hazard.


Other partners in the NERC SHEAR project and who have been involved in this research are:


This  NERC-SHEAR IPACE Malawi project aim is to:

(1) Identify critical agro-climatic indicators in central and southern Malawi;

(2) Test the skill of short term to seasonal forecast tools in simulating these indicators;

(3) Co-design agricultural climate services and input into early warning early action systems based on these indicators/forecast tools.


Findings showed that there is a drought early warning dissemination and communication process in place, where drought warnings are disseminated along with other climate information designed to enhance food production and improve farming practices. The system is being developed through a value chain approach where the engagement of farmers in the drought warning design is limited causing differences in drought perceptions and integration of local knowledge in the warning produced.

The use of drought warning information in the decision making process of farmers was analysed by developing criteria and cues used to carry various farming activities. Results showed that farmers are receptive to the guidance provided on the type of farming activities to carry out but that the decision as to when to conduct these activities is mainly based on the local knowledge.  The reason outlined by farmers is linked to a lack of accessibility on the weather updates. In general, it was found that drought warnings have fostered an adequate early action thanks to the adoption of human-centred measures. Where localized information together with local dissemination services results in trust enhancement  and therefore drought warning uptake by the local farmers.


For NGOs and UN agencies, this research outlined the high involvement of these actors in the drought early warning system, and that their early action is mainly linked to famine early warnings that include drought conditions.

Overall, this research showed that progress has been made in meeting the requirements for a human-centred early warning. However, the lack of active engagement of farmers in the drought warning design, and external challenges such as a lack of local funds, which has led to a high dependency on donors, or the frequent changes of government officials affect the well-development and sustainability of such an approach.


Alexia graduated in Water Management and Governance at the end of April 2020, and wishes to start working in the international development cooperation sector. The results of the research will be used to inform IBF Drought triggers and EWEA of the future.

Written by Alexia Calvel

Comments are closed