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.”
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