Show Impact Of
Climate Change In Africa
By Barry Mason
18 July, 2007
recent news item on Britain’s Independent Television News by Martin
Geissler highlighted the impact of climate change on sub-Saharan Africa.
He reported from Lesotho, a country of less than two million people,
which forms an enclave within South Africa.
With a Human Development
Index of 149 out of 177 and a nearly 30 percent prevalence of HIV/AIDS
amongst its adult population, Lesotho already faces a multitude of problems.
It is now facing changes
in climate, with drought conditions the worst in 30 years. Geissler
interviewed a local farmer who had been farming his land for 60 years.
He explained how the weather patterns began to change around 20 years
ago and continue to worsen. In the past, his crop would be 80 bags of
corn—now it is seven bags.
The wet season used to be
predictable. Starting in August the rains would arrive and continue
steadily until the turn of the New Year. This pattern began to alter
in the 1980s. Now the land receives only one month’s rain, often
in torrents that erode the soil and leave the land unworkable.
The United Nations expects
hundreds of thousands of people to face hunger, and is preparing a massive
relief operation. Bhim Udas of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimated
30-35 percent of the population would be at risk of malnutrition.
It is a similar picture in
Zambia. The British Guardian newspaper of July 6 carried an article
by Associated Press writer Joseph Schatz writing from Pemba in Zambia.
He spoke with corn farmers
who explained how the rainy season used to be predictable almost to
the day. Now the rain that should come in October and stretch through
to March may not appear until November or even December. When the rain
comes, it comes late and is more erratic, often falling in torrents
damaging the soil. Again, as in Lesotho, the change in the pattern of
rain has taken place over the last 20 years.
A study carried out by the
Centre for Environmental and Economic Policy of Africa based at South
Africa’s Pretoria University, showed how Zambian farmers were
vulnerable to the changing climate.
Many are subsistence farmers
and lack money and expertise to be able to access irrigation techniques.
The study explains, “Some have switched to crops such as sweet
potatoes which mature earlier and need less water. But governments have
long supported corn growing and it’s the basis of nshima, the
Zambian daily staple. So farmers are reluctant to stop growing it.”
As well as southern Africa,
climate change is also affecting the Horn of Africa. A report issued
in June this year by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
explains how environmental degradation has helped fuel conflicts and
tensions in Sudan, including Darfur.
The report notes rainfall
in northern Darfur has been reduced by 30 percent over the last 80 years.
Other findings show that many parts of Sudan are experiencing a marked
decline in rainfall and that it is becoming irregular. Declines in rainfall
between 16 and 30 percent have led to millions of hectares of marginal
grazing land converting to desert.
The desert in the north of
the country has moved south by 100 kilometres (60 miles) over the last
40 years. Yields of the food staple sorghum could fall by 70 percent
in some areas. Even though rainfall has decreased, flooding is also
a problem, especially flash floods and floods resulting from the overflow
of the Blue Nile caused by deforestation in its upper reaches (in Ethiopia).
Achim Stiener, the UNEP executive
director speaking at a press release, said, “This report encapsulates
the scale and many of the driving forces behind the tragedy of the Sudan
... that has been unfolding for decades.... Sudan’s tragedy is
not just the tragedy of one country in Africa. It is window to a wider
world underlining how issues such as uncontrolled depletion of natural
resources like soils and forests allied to impacts like climate change
can destabilize communities, even entire countries.”
At the end of May this year
the development charity Oxfam issued a briefing paper, “Adapting
to climate change. What’s needed in poor countries, and who should
pay?” It called on the upcoming G8 summit leaders to seriously
address the impact of climate change.
It made the point that whilst
climate change will affect the whole world, “poor countries will
be worst affected, facing greater droughts, floods, hunger and disease....
In South Africa, less frequent and less reliable rains are forcing farmers
to sell their cattle and plant faster maturing crops.”
The report noted the World
Bank’s estimated cost for developing countries to adapt to climate
change is between $10 billion and 40 billion per annum. Oxfam reckons
the annual cost to be $50 billion. According to the report, the major
capitalist powers have pledged only $182 million towards adaptation
costs and it points out that the money pledged is being counted within
development aid. Oxfam calls for money needed for adaptation to be given
on top of aid donations.
Oxfam goes on to state that
the results of climate change will cut across the United Nation’s
efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals set in 2000 to reduce
In April of this year the
UN published an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report
on the impact of climate change on agriculture and food production.
The report noted that developing countries would be amongst the most
affected by climate change. There would be more frequent drought, floods
and resultant crop damage, water shortages and disease.
The Oxfam report notes the
IPCC prediction for Africa would mean “75-250 million people across
Africa could face more severe water shortages by 2020.... Agricultural
production and access to food will be severely compromised in many African
countries: agricultural land will be lost ... shorter growing seasons....
In some countries, yields from rain-fed crops could be halved by 2020.”
The same message was given
at a recent conference of the prestigious Stockholm Environment Institute
discussing climate change and sustainable development. The institute
executive director Johan Rockstroem, speaking to the Agence France Presse
(AFP), explained, “The risk is that we might halve ... food production
in sub-Saharan Africa because of our lifestyles.”
The latest USAid Famine Early
Warning System, FEWSNET, gives the food security status of countries
in Africa. Chad, Ethiopia and Somalia are classed as in an emergency.
In Chad the threat is of water-born disease amongst displaced peoples
from the crisis in neighbouring Darfur. Ethiopia faces flooding worse
than last year. Somalia experienced lower than normal seasonal rains
which, together with people displaced from the capital Mogadishu, means
food insecurity for many.
Djibouti, Kenya and Zimbabwe
are given a warning status. The situation in Zimbabwe is being exacerbated
by the policies of the Mugabe regime, which have led to hyperinflation
and supermarkets with no food on the shelves.
The recent G8 summit held
in Heiligendamm Germany produced no realistic meaningful response to
the threat of climate change. Commenting on the lack of response at
the G8 summit, George Gelber of the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development
(CAFOD) described climate change as “a slow motion tsunami for
millions of poor people round the world ... developing countries which
are the least responsible for global warming will experience its worst
Whilst continuing scientific
reports highlight the dangers of climate change and are able to provide
increasing evidence for its effects, the major powers refuse to take
the necessary actions that would be at the expense of big business whose
interests they represent.
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