Oct. 11-24, 2002
Back Issues

‘Genius Grant’ winner to speak at Convocation
Family Weekend packed with activities
If you “cannot live without books”
U.Va. changes banks
Town-gown solutions forum
Faculty invited to minority career day talk
Board establishes professorships
Board names buildings
G’day, art lovers
Virginia gets ‘B’ in nat’l report
See with a writer’s eye
For he’s a jolly good fellow
Benefits open enrollment
Another bridge over technology divide
Back to his roots
‘Brain Food:’ Students serve up a most excellent lunch
Who’s minding grandma?
Your right to safety
Hot Link: Faculty experts guide
Exhibits highlight Chinese, European art
College goes to ‘Net for advising, registration processes
New INS rules snare international students
‘The Secret Museum’ to explore pornography
Non-profit fair set for Nov. 13
Student-faculty dinners begin Oct. 17
Michelango‘s art explored on Oct. 24
In Memoriam

Budget cuts implemented
Biggest gift ever
Digest/Daily news about U.Va.
Headlines @ U.Va.

Making every drop count

LBT group offers compromise
15th annual Virginia Festival of Film
A voice for Africa
To our readers -- redesign of IUVA print version
Wylie’s ‘Stillwater’ runs through Oct. 27
Basketball ticket lottery
‘Waltzing the Reaper’
Infrastructure not glamorous but a vital part of bond package

A voice for Africa

By Fariss Samarrai

Paul Desanker has never lost sight of the forest for the trees. He has kept his focus on the bigger picture: the policy implications of research findings in the environmental sciences.

Paul Desanker
Paul Desanker tries to get the developed world to see that the developing world is often the victim of environmental problems it had little to do with.

Desanker is a forester, a U.Va. research assistant professor of environmental sciences who serves on international committees seeking ways to help the developing world survive and thrive in the global economy. He recently participated in the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, representing NASA, one of his research sponsors. “It’s a matter of equity,” he said. “I want to help developing countries to have a share in how they are represented in the global community.”

Desanker specializes in the effects of global climate change on southern Africa. Born and raised in Malawi, he speaks English and Chichewa, a language spoken in Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. He is often the voice of southern Africa among international scientists and a growing community of policy-makers who are interested in how science can inform their decisions.

“Climate change affects everyone,” Desanker said, “but often it is the people in developing countries who are most affected by extreme events caused by global warming, such as flooding, drought, crop failures and disease. The people in these countries don’t have the infrastructure or government support to help them when these events occur.”

Most scientists agree that the earth is warming and that this trend is being accelerated by industrial activity in developed nations, mainly by the burning of fossil fuels. Even the slightest increase of global temperature can result in extreme changes in weather and climate on regional scales. Africa is considered one of the most vulnerable regions in the world for extreme changes.

“I try to get people in the developed world to recognize that people in the developing world are often the victims of problems that they had little to do with,” he said.

Desanker serves on several international committees dedicated to explaining the science of climate change and its social implications, including serving on a U.N. Expert Group on Climate Change Issues for Least Developed Countries. As coordinator of the Africa chapter of an international panel, he works with 15 other scientists in southern Africa surveying the effects of climate change.

“Paul started out as a pure scientist, being very good at computer modeling and forestry, and he also is breaking new ground in science-to-policy initiatives,” said Hank Shugart, W.W. Corcoran Professor of Environmental Sciences at U.Va. and director of the Global Environmental Change Program here.

Last year Desanker participated in the United Nations’ Climate Change Convention, where he helped negotiate a position for least-developed countries. The convention secured $15 million from developed nations as seed money for creating a program of action to support the needs of 46 developing countries. Eventually, more than half a billion dollars will be dedicated to helping these countries with emergency management and infrastructure needs.

“In the U.S. and other developed countries, there are systems in place to help people when there is a flood or hurricane,” Desanker said. “But in least developed countries the people are on their own for even basic needs. I try to negotiate for the people in these countries, to give them a voice among the developed countries.”

Desanker, the son of a forester, grew up on forest reserves. He studied forestry in the mid-80s at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and earned a master’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in forest biometrics at Michigan Technological University. He specializes in computer modeling of regional land environments. Desanker was a postdoctoral fellow at U.Va. before returning to Michigan Tech for a faculty position.

In 1995, he returned to U.Va. and now coordinates the Miombo Network, an international study on the effects of global climate change on the massive Miombo forest region of southern Africa, an area that spans seven countries.

Desanker travels to Africa four or five times a year, spending three to four months of the year there. He continues to conduct field research while forming partnerships with colleagues who share his interest in policy issues. He has played a major role in helping form a new education and research consortium between U.Va. and four universities in southern Africa.

The consortium, called SAVANA – Southern Africa-Virginia Networks and Associations – is one more way Desanker is crossing international boundaries, seeking solutions to global problems, no matter how deep the forest.


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