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About Us

Risk and Vulnerability Science Centre (RVSC), is the product of the Department of Science and Technology’s 10 year Global Change Grand Challenge, also framed as Global Change Research Programme (GCRP). The GCRP embraces the wider sphere of global change although its main focus is on climate change. It includes changes in economics, politics, land use and atmospheric conditions, as well as loss of biodiversity. It also includes palaeo-analysis and the geosciences in so far as they illuminate global changes issues.  More information on the Global Change Grand Challenge, the associated Research Plan and implementation architecture can be viewed The GCRP is an attempt to focus research efforts and resources towards a common vision for improving the scientific understanding of global change, including climate change. The GCRP has identified four broad areas of work referred to as Knowledge Challenges with specific research themes under each. The Knowledge Challenges and their specific research themes are represented in the table below:

The 10 Year Global Change Research Plan, including Knowledge Areas and Research Themes

Knowledge Challenge A


Understanding a

changing planet


Knowledge Challenge B


Reducing the human


Knowledge Challenge C


Adapting the way we



Knowledge Challenge D


Innovation for Sustainability


Research Themes:



Research Themes:



Research Themes:



Research Themes:


1. Observation and monitoring

2. Dynamics of the oceans around southern Africa

3. Dynamics of the complex internal earth systems

4. Linking the land, air and sea

5. Improving model predictions at different scales

1. Waste minimization methods and technologies

2. Conserving biodiversity and

ecosystem services

3. Institutional integration to manage ecosystems and ecosystem services

4. Doing more with less


1. Preparing for rapid change and extreme events

2. Planning for sustainable urban

development in a South African


3. Water security for South Africa

4. Food and fibre security for South Africa

1. Dynamics of transition at different scales - mechanisms of innovation and learning

2. Resilience and capability

3. Options for greening the developmental state

4. Technological innovation for sustainable social ecological systems.

5. Social Learning for sustainability, adaptation, innovation and resilience.

Specific research questions associated with each of the 18 research themes can be viewed at Currently, a number of research projects and activities contribute to the Knowledge Challenge: “Understanding a changing planet”; and parts of the Knowledge Challenge: “Reducing the human footprint”. However, the DST and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have identified important gaps in the Knowledge Challenges of “Adapting the way we live” and “Innovation for sustainability”. The proposed long-term large-scale Research Programme on Global Change, Society, and Sustainability is thus aimed at addressing these gaps and supporting research and human capital development in these two Knowledge Challenges specifically.  The topics range widely within the linked human-ecological system in which global change is believed to play a crucial part and include technological innovation and the social sciences and humanities where relevant. Hence, the research plan follows a three prolonged approach aimed at:

  Aim 1: Studying and understanding the changes

  Aim 2: Understand the implications of these changes for decision making

  Aim 3: Stimulating innovation in responding to the challenges posed by global change

  The topics range widely within the linked human-ecological

2. The Scope of the  RVSC Project at UFH

The GCRP priorities addressing local needs and working in areas of global comparative advantage.  Hence, the RVSC aims for realizing innovation toward socio-economic sustainable livelihoods of the vulnerable communities in the Eastern Cape Province. The Eastern Cape Province is considered to be the country’s poorest province, with a population of approximately 6.52 million in mid-2007, representing 14.4% of the total South African population (Davies, 2009).  Roughly 60% live below the poverty line (Schwabe, 2004). This extremely high incidence of poverty and joblessness renders the majority of these people highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, as they are heavily dependent upon natural resources for food and income (Shackleton, 2010). Case studies in different areas of the Eastern Cape have exposed shortages of clean drinking water, food insecurity and loss of biodiversity and Climate change will exacerbate the problems. Up to this point the government has not directly addressed how climate change could alter disturbances patterns of risks and vulnerabilities at household level. Thus this project (RVSC) is poised to make a substantial contribution to the government on climate change impacts and its effects on food and water security.

Against this background the RVSC at the University of Fort Hare serves as a coordinating point for all risks and vulnerability studies in the rural & peri-urban communities of the Eastern Cape.  Thus through research the RVSC aims to provide up-to date data base on climate change impacts and its effects on food and water security, though other research theme indicated in Figure 1 can be explored.  The data will contribute towards the development of the South African Risk & Vulnerability Atlas with the intent to develop models, strategies for capacity building among stakeholders and rural communities, creating and disseminating climate risks and vulnerabilities, facilitating implementation and to inform policies in ways that integrate messages between science, government and local stakeholder.   In fact the RVSC is an arm of the atlas to be used for outreach.  Overall, the information is for key sectors to support strategy development and decision-making in areas of risks and vulnerability thereby supporting South Africa’s transition to a resilience future and provide risk and vulnerability assessment services to local communities and other users. The information gathered will be made for free to communities, municipalities, local and national and other research entities. This knowledge economy will comprise three components:

  • Electronic spatial database system (risks & vulnerability mapping)
  • Repository of global change and vulnerability studies (case studies)
  • Hard copy synthesis of data and studies.