What we achieve: Marthe’s PhD

Marthe Wens recently submitted her PhD thesis to the reading committee and it is approved for defense! In the same week, her 4th and last PhD paper was accepted in NHESS. Reasons to celebrate with a Vrijmibo (the Dutch after-work) – which unfortunately was held without Marthe (the next Covid-19 victim)… But soon we’ll celebrate the promotion of Anne to deputy-head of our research department, so there will be another party to celebrate achievements.

Marthe’s PhD research focusses on integrating adaptive behavior in drought risk assessments. Drought disaster risk models have long neglected the capacity of people and communities to adapt to the severe danger posed by droughts. Failure to take into account the dynamic nature of heterogeneous human adaptive behavior leads to incomplete risk assessments. Her thesis explores how to explicitly include individual adaptation decisions of smallholder farmers into risk assessments. She proposes a socio-hydrological agent-based modelling setup and showcases the development of such model in a case study in semi-arid Kenya.

The recently accepted paper, “Education, financial aid and awareness can reduce smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to drought under climate change” applies the socio-hydrological agent-based model that Marthe developed, to evaluate changes in drought risk among smallholder households under different scenarios of climate change and under different top-down disaster risk reduction policies. Both directly and indirectly influence farmers’ behavior and adaptation decisions, and thus the emergence of new or diminishing of existing risk. The study shows that a timely, holistic approach called “prospective intervention” is most effective. Combining preparedness measures such as early warnings and ex-ante transfers, with mitigation measures, such as access to trainings and credit, shows a robust reduction in drought risk, even under a hotter and drier climate.

Keep an eye out for the latest issue of NHESS (currently, the manuscript is being edited so it will be available soon) and for an upcoming PhD defense (which will be hybrid, allowing public to follow live or on YouTube)!