Cli­mate dis­rup­tion

Global warm­ing has com­pro­mised Africa's abil­ity to feed its pop­u­la­tion. It's time African na­tions adapt to the chang­ing sce­nario

Down to Earth - - AFRICA -

SOME­THING STRANGE is hap­pen­ing across East Africa. The re­gion, which re­ceives rain­fall twice a year, is reel­ing from the worst drought in a cen­tury. Kenya, So­ma­lia, Ethiopia, Tan­za­nia and Uganda, which boast of rich agri­cul­tural lands, have re­ceived be­low-av­er­age rain­fall for the third year in a row. This has caused food prices to sky­rocket to record lev­els, dou­bling the price of sta­ple ce­re­als in some ar­eas, and ex­ac­er­bat­ing the acute food in­se­cu­rity pre­vail­ing over most parts of the con­ti­nent. kOver the past six months, se­vere drought con­di­tions have con­trib­uted to the dis­place­ment of more than 700,000 peo­ple within So­ma­lia, 300,000 in Ethiopia and over 41,000 in Kenya,” says Je­mal Seid, Di­rec­tor, Cli­mate and Geospa­tial Re­search, at the Ethiopian In­sti­tute of Agri­cul­tural Re­search.

In some places camel car­casses are be­ing stacked up as even the world’s most ro­bust an­i­mal has not been able to sur­vive this per­sis­tent drought. High num­ber of peo­ple at the risk of star­va­tion prompted South Su­dan, a largely wa­ter-sur­plus re­gion, to de­clare famine in Fe­bru­ary—the first such dec­la­ra­tion any­where in the world since 2011. In March, the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion warned that So­ma­lia is at the risk of third famine in 25 years. Ac­cord­ing to the UN, 12 mil­lion peo­ple in the re­gion are now de­pen­dent on hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

The per­sis­tent dry con­di­tions are partly linked to the In­dian Ocean dipole, which is sim­i­lar to El Niño weather phe­nom­e­non in the Pa­cific and pushes away the moist air that brings rain to East Africa. But sci­en­tific stud­ies show that the sever­ity of the prob­lem is due to chang­ing cli­mate. “The im­pacts of cur­rent and re­cent droughts in East Africa are likely to have been ag­gra­vated by cli­mate change,” notes the 2017 re­port by Ox­fam, an in­ter­na­tional con­fed­er­a­tion of char­i­ta­ble or­gan­i­sa­tions fo­cused on the al­le­vi­a­tion of global poverty.

The lat­est Fifth As­sess­ment Re­port (AR5) of the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change (ipcc), re­leased in 2014, had warned of such an even­tu­al­ity in Africa. Over the past cen­tury, tem­per­a­tures across the con­ti­nent have soared by 0.5°C or more, with min­i­mum tem­per­a­tures ris­ing faster than the max­i­mum tem­per­a­tures. Higher tem­per­a­tures re­sult in greater evap­o­ra­tion, caus­ing soil mois­ture de­ple­tion, re­in­forc­ing drier con­di­tions and in­ten­si­fy­ing the im­pacts of failed rains, noted the ipcc re­port. Ac­cord­ing to the 2016 re­port by Ber­lin-based pol­icy in­sti­tute Cli­mate An­a­lyt­ics, sum­mer monsoon rain, which brings max­i­mum pre­cip­i­ta­tion to East Africa, has de­creased in re­cent years due to rapid warm­ing of the In­dian Ocean. Th­ese chang­ing cli­matic con­di­tions pose the third whammy for a con­ti­nent, al­ready strug­gling with the need to feed more and more peo­ple and ris­ing food im­port bill.

“Cli­mate change has com­pro­mised Africa’s abil­ity to feed her­self,” says Os­car Magenya, chief re­search sci­en­tist at the Kenya Agri­cul­tural and Live­stock Re­search Or­ga­ni­za­tion, Nairobi. “Cli­mate change af­fects many phys­i­cal and bi­o­log­i­cal sys­tems, dis­rupt­ing grow­ing sea­sons, fluc­tu­at­ing plant and an­i­mal ranges and re­sult­ing in the emer­gence of vir­u­lent pests and dis­eases,” Magenya ex­plains. In Sa­hel, for in­stance, most farm­ers de­pend on rain-fed crops. But th­ese days rains do not last long enough to grow a full crop. This shrink­ing rainy sea­son is af­fect­ing food se­cu­rity and ex­ac­er­bat­ing mal­nu­tri­tion in the re­gion. In an April re­port to ipcc, ex­perts have said that in some coun­tries, yields from rain-fed crops could be re­duced by up to 50 per cent by 2020.

Re­cur­rent droughts is fu­elling de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion. Sa­hel re­gion, which al­ter­nately ex­pe­ri­ences wet and dry sea­sons, has been suf­fer­ing from drought on a

reg­u­lar ba­sis since the early 1980s. As a re­sult, says Peter Tarfa, act­ing di­rec­tor of the cli­mate change de­part­ment un­der Nige­ria’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry, semi-arid Sa­hel is not only fast turn­ing into a desert but also en­croach­ing on north­ern Nige­ria, af­fect­ing farm­ing and pas­toral ac­tiv­i­ties in the re­gion.

While there is no study to link cli­mate change with dwin­dling wa­ter re­sources, the fact is the Congo, the world’s sec­ond-largest river, is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a 50 per cent drop in its wa­ter lev­els. Lake Chad has shrunk by nearly 90 per cent since 1963. A pro­longed drought could af­fect large parts of the shore­line of Lake Vic­to­ria—the world’s largest trop­i­cal lake and the source of the Nile— which de­pends on rain­fall for 80 per cent of the wa­ter. This would de­stroy fish breed­ing grounds and tra­di­tional agri­cul­ture, putting mil­lions of lives at risk. In West Africa, as ris­ing sea lev­els re­draw the shore­line and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion dam­ages coral reefs, fish­ing and agri­cul­ture that form the foun­da­tion of liveli­hoods suf­fer a blow. The coast ac­counts for 56 per cent of the re­gion’s gdp.

WHY AT THE RE­CEIV­ING END

What coun­tries across Africa are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing is noth­ing un­usual in this age of An­thro­pocene. Then why does the con­ti­nent bear the in­sur­mount­able loss and dam­age? Mu­nich-based rein­sur­ance com­pany Mu­nich Re of­fers an ex­pla­na­tion. While cli­mate change is a global prob­lem, its im­pacts are un­evenly dis­trib­uted, with poor and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries bear­ing the max­i­mum brunt. The im­pact of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters is much greater on de­vel­op­ing coun­tries—cur­rently 13 per cent of their gdp—than on rich na­tions, where it is 2 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Mu­nich Re. There is also a dis­par­ity among dif­fer­ent parts of the de­vel­op­ing world. While Asia is highly ex­posed to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, Africa is most vul­ner­a­ble to its im­pacts. Ac­cord­ing to the Nat­u­ral Haz­ards Vul­ner­a­bil­ity In­dex by risk anal­y­sis and re­search com­pany Verisk Maple­croft, nine of 10 coun­tries found most vul­ner­a­ble on the in­dex are in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa.

Anal­y­sis by Down To Earth shows that cli­mate change im­pacts are more pro­nounced in Africa be­cause of a few rea­sons. One, agri­cul­ture is largely rain-fed and un­der­de­vel­oped; two, 90 per cent of the farms are small yet con­trib­ute to 80 per cent of the to­tal food pro­duc­tion; and three, a ma­jor­ity of the farm­ers have few fi­nan­cial re­sources, lim­ited ac­cess to in­fra­struc­ture and ex­tremely lim­ited ac­cess to weather and tech­no­log­i­cal in­for­ma­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the UN Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (fao), in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries the

REUTERS Dis­placed peo­ple gather at an ar­ti­fi­cial wa­ter pan near Habaas town of Aw­dal re­gion in So­ma­liland in April 2016. As East Africa reels from the worst drought in a cen­tury, sci­en­tific stud­ies show the im­pact of drought is more se­vere be­cause of cli­mate change

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