Category: africa

Africa’s resistance grows as climate crisis worsens

Africa’s resistance grows as climate crisis worsens

By Kieran Cooke

Battered by storms and droughts during a tough 2019, Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis left no room for passivity.

Attempting to come to any general conclusions on the state of a vast, varied and complex continent may be a tricky business, but Africa’s resistance to the climate crisis shows it rejects any idea of settling for victimhood.

A new report, State of the Climate in Africa 2019, published by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), makes that clear.

It reaches some grim conclusions. Increased temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather are threatening human health and safety across the continent, says the report.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources”, says Petteri Taalas, the WMO secretary-general.

“In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming spectre of drought because of a La Niña event”, he says. “The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Killer cyclone

Drought caused considerable damage in 2019, particularly across southern Africa. Much of East Africa also suffered drought but then, late in the year, there was torrential rain and serious flooding and landslides in the region.

The trend, says the report, is for continuing increases in temperature: 2019 was among the three warmest years ever recorded in Africa. The WMO predicts that rainfall is likely to decrease over northern and southern regions but increase over the Sahel.

There are also likely to be more weather-related extreme events. In March 2019 Cyclone Idai hit the coast of Mozambique and went on to devastate large areas of Malawi, Zimbabwe and surrounding countries.

Described as the most destructive cyclone ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, Idai killed hundreds of people and displaced several hundred thousand.

“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest”

Sea levels are rising well above the global average in many parts of Africa, the report says. Coastal degradation and erosion is a major challenge, particularly in West Africa. More than 50% of the coastlines in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and Togo are eroding – a trend likely to continue in future years.

The knock-on effects of these changes in climate are considerable. Approximately 60% of the total population of Africa is dependent on agriculture for a living.

Heat and drought, plus flood damage in some areas, are likely to reduce crop productivity. Changes in climate are also leading to pest outbreaks.

In what it describes as the worst case climate change scenario, the report says crop yields could drop by 13% by mid-century across West and Central Africa, 11% in North Africa and 8% in the eastern and southern regions of the continent. Rice and wheat crops would be particularly badly affected.

Combatting the crisis

Increased heat and continually changing rainfall patterns are also likely to lead to the spread of disease – and a fall-off in economic production in many countries.

But the report does point to some positive changes, showing Africa’s resistance to the crisis. Though the continent is responsible for only a small percentage of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, many countries in Africa are taking measures aimed at tackling climate change.

Solar power is becoming more widespread, with several large-scale projects planned. Early warning systems monitoring the approach of such cataclysmic events as Cyclone Idai are being installed across the continent.
Farm incomes in many areas are increasing, due to the application of more efficient cultivation methods, such as micro-irrigation. But good planning, based on reliable data, is essential, the report says.

“The limited uptake and use of climate information services in development planning and practice in Africa is due in part to the paucity of reliable and timely climate information”, says Vera Songwe, the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa– Climate News Network

This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Georgina Smith/CIAT (public domain), via Climate Visuals
Tap big data to fight floods and droughts in Africa

Tap big data to fight floods and droughts in Africa

By: Claudia Sadoff

Big data can help African countries better weather the storm and survive the drought, argues Claudia Sadoff.

About this time last year, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe were reeling from Cyclone Idai, a severe flood. Zimbabwe is currently facing the opposite: a devastating drought, leaving millions without power and on the brink of starvation.

Such water extremes are not new in Sub-Saharan Africa but they are likely to become more frequent and more intense in the years ahead, as rising temperatures make climate change adaptation a matter of life or death.

It is no longer possible to prepare for the traditional wet and dry seasons of the past. As Zimbabwe has found out, one year could bring unprecedented storms while the next brings record water scarcity.

Hope in big data

Instead, Africa’s best hope may come in the form of big data, and monitoring water resources so that countries can take more informed decisions to better weather the storm and survive the drought.

This year’s World Water Day, which falls today (22 March), focuses on how water and climate change are inextricably linked. The devastating impact of Cyclone Idai in Zimbabwe in particular offers a vivid example of how climate change is linked to the abundance and scarcity of water.

“It is no longer possible to prepare for the traditional wet and dry seasons of the past.”

Claudia Sadoff, International Water Management Institute

And when it comes to adapting to climate change, knowledge is power, which is why a new programme to gather continent-wide information on water could be a game-changer.

A satellite imagery platform called Digital Earth Africa has previously focussed on land resources such as forests. But it will now aggregate data from remote-sensing technologies, which will allow scientists at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) to develop applications for detailed analysis on continent-wide water levels and supplies.

Crucially, this information will be held in the Open Data Cube, an open-source resource for earth observation data, which will give unprecedented levels of access to information on the situation across Africa.

Harnessing water resources information

By pooling this information and making it publicly available, it will be possible to create an accurate picture of water resources to forecast shortages and water needs, and develop strategies to manage water-related climate risks.

For example, such data, collected over decades and amounting to huge capacities,  will allow governments to assess, monitor and report on water resource availability and use, and to balance water allocations across different sectors including agriculture and health.

It will also help scientists such as those at the IWMI to develop extreme scenario models, enabling authorities to take a “prevention is better than cure” approach.

As well as water accounting, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) researchers will be able to make use of the data to create flood and drought models that can then be used to develop early warning systems, not just within counties or districts but across wider regions.

When Cyclone Idai struck, it impacted an area from the coast of central Mozambique beyond the Zimbabwe border and the southern tip of Malawi, all requiring different levels of response but which could have benefitted from greater coordination across the region.

“It is vital that we work together to develop systems to manage and secure water resources, allowing countries across Africa to thrive.”

Claudia Sadoff, International Water Management Institute

Similarly, the disaster led to flooding of the Zambesi and Limpopo rivers, which run through multiple countries including Botswana. By better using regional data, these climate disasters can be handled and addressed in a more coherent way at a large scale.

New systems will aim to give sufficient notice of imminent extremes so that families can evacuate from an area facing a flood or storm, for example, or claim against drought-related insurance.

These applications will be rolled out in some countries with a view to developing additional services and extending them across the continent.

Supporting African-grown innovations

Finally, beyond developing applications and working with partners, the IMWI also sees enormous potential to support African-grown innovations to develop water-related tools that benefit countries, communities and businesses.

While there is a growing community of data science, start-ups and digitalisation in Africa, there is also a gulf between the potential of new data technologies to improve water resource management in Africa and the realities of their limited application on the ground.

To realise its promise and help build resilience to water extremes, this project would also need to overcome barriers to adoption such as awareness, expertise and cost in using the data.

But given that water is so intrinsically linked to climate change and impacts food, economic and social security, it is vital that we work together to develop systems to manage and secure water resources, allowing countries across Africa to thrive.

In climate change-induced emergencies such as floods and droughts, tools and technologies that aid their effective management can be the difference between sinking and swimming.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.
Cover photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash
African city heat is set to grow intolerably

African city heat is set to grow intolerably

By Tim Radford

An entire continent faces lethal conditions for many of its people: by 2090, one person in three can expect African city heat in the great conurbations severe enough to expose them to potentially deadly temperatures.

That is: the number of days in which the apparent temperature – a notional balance of thermometer-measured heat and maximum humidity – could reach or surpass 40.6°C will increase dramatically, and the days when individuals could be at risk could in some scenarios multiply 50-fold.

The scientists selected this “apparent” temperature of 40.6°C because it is significantly beyond the natural temperature of the human body, which must then be kept cool by perspiration. This is possible in arid climates.

But as humidity goes up – and with each 1°C rise in temperature, the capacity of the air to hold moisture rises by 7% – cooling by perspiration becomes less efficient.

So at this notionally-defined apparent temperature, people who cannot retreat to air-conditioned or cooler, shadier places could die. Heat kills: researchers recently counted 27 ways in which extreme temperatures could claim lives.

“If we follow the Paris Agreement, we’ll halve the number of people at risk in 2090, which is encouraging”

And more, and more intense and prolonged heat waves are on the way, and with them episodes of potentially extreme humidity. By 2100, according to some studies, certain regions of the planet could become dangerous habitat.

European scientists report in the journal Earth’s Future that they considered the hazard for just one, rapidly-growing continent: Africa. They selected 173 cities of more than 300,000 people in 43 nations across a range of climates, from Algiers on the Mediterranean to the burgeoning monsoon cities of the equatorial west coast, such as Lagos and Kinshasa, the drier east African states, and the relatively mild townships of Southern Africa.

They then considered how much cities might grow, by migration or birth-rate increases, and how they might develop. Then they factored in a range of climate scenarios and looked at possible forecasts for the years 2030, 2060 and 2090.

They found that because of population growth, the numbers of days on which people could be at risk – measured in person-days (one person working for one full day) – would in any case increase.

Sharper rise

“In the best case, 20 billion person-days will be affected by 2030, compared with 4.2bn in 2010 – a jump, in other words, of 376%” said Guillaume Rohat, of the University of Geneva, who led the study. “This figure climbs to 45bn in 2060 (up 971%) and reaches 86bn in 2090 (up 1947%).

And that is the best-case scenario. When the researchers factored in the steepest population increases, the most rapid growth of the cities and the worst disturbances in climate, the figures rose more sharply. By 2030, 26 billion, a fivefold increase, could be at risk, 95bn in 2060 and 217 bn in 2090. This is an increase of 4967%, or nearly 50-fold.

The researchers assumed that not everybody in their 173 cities would be exposed to dangerous levels of heat. Were that to happen, the number of person-days could hit 647 billion. But the researchers made a conservative estimate of one in three people who would be exposed to a minimum temperature of 40.6°C.

Research of this kind makes assumptions about how the climate is going to change, and separately about how nations are going to develop, how populations are going to grow and change, and how governments are going to respond to the climate emergency, and the authors recognise the problems.

Conservative conclusions

The sample is biased towards the larger cities. Their calculations don’t include predictions for capital investment. But the researchers say their conclusions are if anything conservative. They do not, for instance, factor in the notorious urban heat island effect that tends to make cities 3°C or more hotter than the surrounding countryside, and therefore even more dangerous.

The good news to emerge from the study is that concerted action, by governments and civic authorities, can reduce the risk. Were nations to stick to an agreement made by 195 of them in Paris in 2015, and keep global temperature rise to “well below” 2°C, the final exposure hazard would be reduced by 48%.

“This proves that if we follow the Paris Agreement, we’ll halve the number of people at risk in 2090, which is encouraging,” said Rohat.

“We can see the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: access to education, a drop in the number of children per woman, developments in the standard of living and so on.”

This article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Seth Doyle on Unsplash.