Business experience of floods and drought-related water and electricity supply disruption in sub-Saharan Africa during the 2015/2016 El Niño

11:15 Wednesday 29 May


Room S16


Kate Gannon (United Kingdom) 1; Declan Conway (United Kingdom) 1; Christian Siderius (United Kingdom) 1

1 - London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)


Drought during the 2015/2016 El Niño amplified disruption to public water supply in Botswana’s capital Gaborone and contributed to unprecedented hydroelectric load shedding across Zambia. In Kenya, moderate precipitation during the El Niño brought localized floods to Nairobi and other areas. Contributing to a sparse literature on firm-level adaptation among micro, small and medium enterprise (MSMEs) in sub-Saharan Africa, through a near-real time assessment we consider MSME experience of this disruption in sectors making substantial contributions to livelihoods and national GDP.


We generate new evidence on firm-level experience of El Niño related hydrological and resource disruption and on MSME adaptation through a mixed-methods design that combines key informant interviews with surveys of MSMEs. This work builds on complementary analysis of hydrological impact pathways and focuses specifically on MSMEs located within the capital cities of Gaborone, Lusaka and Nairobi, where business activity is concentrated.


The impacts that businesses experienced from disruption and their ability to cope was varied and unevenly distributed, with potential implications for overall wealth distribution. Coping strategies adopted by MSMEs also contributed to complex impact pathways with direct, indirect and multiplier effects. Directly after the El Niño event, MSMEs reported water supply disruption, power outages and flooding to be the leading challenge within the business environment in Botswana, Zambia and Kenya, respectively.

Precipitation anomalies were not unprecedented in any of the countries studied, considering the strength of the El Niño event and in the context of other hydrological variability in SSA. This suggests disruption was strongly shaped by existing structural weaknesses in energy, water and urban infrastructure, antecedent conditions and management decisions, which El Niño exacerbated and exposed. With climate acting as a risk multiplier, this paper reveals that for some MSMEs, even fairly moderate changes in precipitation can contribute to major disruption to enterprise.


This paper highlights some of the important, but under-recognized consequences for economic activity associated with a major El Niño event. Deeper understanding of vulnerabilities in existing water, energy and urban infrastructure – in the context of increasing urbanization and a potentially broader range of climate variability – is urgently needed across sub- Saharan Africa. This needs to be coupled with public provision of wider enabling conditions – including access to finance – that support private sector adaptation to extreme climate events and associated resource disruption. This paper also identifies clear opportunities to improve climate information services for MSMEs.