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Complex Adaptive Modelling of the Health Impacts of Climate Change in Malawi

Complex Adaptive Modelling of the Health Impacts of Climate Change in Malawi


Last Updated on December 9, 2022

Project Description

Malawi is among the countries most affected by climate change, and its Chilwa Basin is one of the most severely affected regions in the country.

Extreme weather events, flood, drought, changing rain patterns, prolonged high temperatures, and human-induced deforestation have major impacts on human health and lead to population displacement, disruption in health services, increases in some infectious diseases, and acute and chronic undernutrition. 

We aim to assess the following specific health impacts in the Chilwa Basin:

  • infectious diseases: malaria, cholera, schistosomiasis, acute diarrheal disease
  • food security: protein-energy malnutrition, growth stunting in children
  • potable water, sanitation, and hygiene

To model these health impacts of climate change in Malawi, we are applying complex adaptive systems theory to develop a computer-based simulation of the following five subsystems and their interactions: 

  1. ecological services
  2. extreme weather
  3. infectious diseases
  4. food security
  5. clinical public health and disaster risk management

In cooperation with our partners in Malawi, we are selecting appropriate indicators; designing and refining the accuracy of the model; creating a monitoring and evaluation dashboard; and developing a scenario-planning toolbox. The toolbox can be used to monitor and evaluate treatment, prevention, and ecological adaptation interventions for clinical and population health.

This project is partly funded by the Wellcome Trust and involves a partnership between the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research at York University and researchers from Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD) in Malawi and from the University of California-Irvine (UCI).

Team Members

Dr. James Orbinski, Principal Investigator (PI), Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, York University, Canada
Prof. Sosten Chiotha, Co-PI and LEAD Regional Program Director, Malawi
Prof. Richard Matthew, Advisor, Climate Change Policy, University of California Irvine, USA
Prof. Martin J. Bunch, Advisor, Ecohealth and Ecosystem Approaches, Adaptive Management, and Complex Systems, York University, Canada
Prof. Ali Asgary, Advisor, Agent-Based Modelling, York University, Canada
Byomkesh Talukder, Research Fellow, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, York University, Canada
Jochen Schubert, Researcher, University of California Irvine, USA
Mohammadali Tofighi, Postdoctoral Fellow, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, York University, Canada
James Chirombo, Global Health Fellow, LEAD, Malawi
Patrick Likongwe, Research Fellow, LEAD, Malawi
Eunice Choi, PhD student, York University, Canada
Nilanjana Ganguli, Project Manager and PhD student, York University, Canada
Ann Jacee Le, PhD candidate, University of California Irvine, USA

Related Publications

  • Talukder, B., van Loon, G. W., Hipel, K. W., Chiotha, S., & Orbinski, J. (2021). Health impacts of climate change on smallholder farmersOne Health, 13, 100258. doi: 10.1016/j.onehlt.2021.100258

Project Updates

August 2022 Workshop

In August, we held a a six-day, in-country workshop in Zomba, Malawi. The key workshop objectives were:

  1. To consolidate project achievements and identify key questions and data needed.
  2. To familiarize the project team with the study location.
  3. To introduce project team members and share project objectives and achievements with the Health and Climate Change Core Team (HCCCT) for Malawi.
  4. To discuss future collaborations with HCCCT and address key requirements for current and future projects.

Read about the workshop activities here:

People on Lake Chilwa shore
Fishing boats on Lake Chilwa

May 2021 Workshop

In May 2021 we held a two-day stakeholder consultation workshop in Malawi titled Understanding the System Dynamics and Developing Causal Loop Diagrams (CLDs) of Health Impacts of Climate Change in the Lake Chilwa Basin, Malawi.

Twenty-nine participants from a range of government agencies, development partners, civil society organizations, academia, and the media discussed how to represent the subsystems in the project’s causal loop diagrams. As systems are connected through nonlinear relationships, causal loop diagrams help visualize how the different elements of a system are causally related.

Sketch of a causal loop diagram for schistosomiasis
Sketch of a causal loop diagram for malaria

Workshop participants also learned about systems dynamics and discussed how CLDs and modelling of the health impacts of climate change can inform national programs and policies.

Group discussions during the workshop


Planetary Health



Related Work




James Orbinski, Director (On sabbatical Sept 2023 – Feb 2024)
Mohammadali Tofighi, Postdoctoral Fellow, ADERSIM
Byomkesh Talukder, Research Fellow, Planetary Health
Ali Asgary, Faculty Fellow, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies
Nilanjana Ganguli, Research Assistant, Synergies of Planetary Health Research Initiative
Nilanjana Ganguli, Dahdaleh Global Health Graduate Scholar, Planetary Health
Eunice Choi, Graduate Research Assistant, Planetary Health
Shubhdeep Nagi, Planetary Health Research Assistant [FW18-19; S19]
Ryan Austin Jeevanayagam, Research Assistant, Planetary Health [S20; FW20-21; S21; FW21-22]
Minutet Nima, Research Assistant, Planetary Health [W20]

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