Climate Change: It’s more than floods


We will witness instability in rainfall, disease spreading, sea level rise and floods. One other effect of climate change is to send Africans further and further to seek water. This brings them into conflicts with other Africans. We will face wars on African soil that are not created in Africa.”

These words by Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the former chairperson of the Africa Group at the ongoing United Nations climate change negotiations, provides a striking reminder and warning that climate change is more than just about floods or droughts but rather a serious phenomenon that has the capacity to destabilise Africa.

This growing nexus between climate change and instability is now already evident in some parts of the continent. For example, in the Darfur region, climate change has escalated the crisis with competition for scarce water in refugee camps, and scarce land between farmers and herders sparking serious conflicts in the arid region.

According to the United Nations, more than 1.4 million people have been displaced, while thousands others have died since the crisis erupted in the Darfur region in 2003.

In the North Rift and North Eastern regions of Kenya, climate change and human pressures on natural resources have induced violent pastoral conflicts that have resulted in some locals migrating to new lands.

The complexities of climate change also saw Kenya and Uganda at one point coming to an agreement to demarcate Lake Victoria using bright beacons so that fishers from both countries do not cross into another border.

This was after longstanding clashes between fishers “encroaching into another country’s waters” in search of better and bigger fish.

In the Caprivi Region in eastern Namibia, people cross the Chobe/Cuando River into Botswana for grazing.

Although tension has been fairly well managed, increased migration, droughts and livestock disease may spark grazing wars, as communities fight over existing and new lands.

Faced with such a daunting challenge, the question for Africa is how to cope and address the effects of climate change ‑ a phenomenon that is not only here to stay but also getting worse.

Predictions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicate that over the next 50 years, the continent is expected to suffer from more frequent and intense droughts and floods, more unpredictable growing seasons, and higher average temperatures.

An important question for Africa is how to address this global challenge that was not caused by Africa, but by industrialised countries, yet the continent is the hardest hit due to limited financial resources to adapt to such changes.

“There is no one single answer to addressing climate change in Africa,” Abdissa Zerai, a lecturer at the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, told journalists at a recent climate change, peace and security seminar held in Nairobi, Kenya.

Rather, he said, a collective response that brings together all relevant stakeholders including the government, civil society, cooperating partners and the media is critical towards mitigating and adapting to climate change.

There is also the need for the global community to honour its pledges to provide climate change finance in the form of grants and not loans. Increased aid was promised in 2009 to help developing countries to cope with climate change, to reach US$100 billion a year after 2020, from US$10b annually 2010-12.

However, few have met the pledges, and at the UN climate talks held in Warsaw, Poland in late 2013, industrialised countries rejected calls to set targets for 2013-19, meaning that progress towards a proposed new global climate treaty will be stalled.

Africa and other countries of the South want the highly polluting nations of the north to cut emissions to at least 40 percent below the 1990 levels by 2020 – demands that are also being challenged by the highly polluting countries.

Despite this resistance by the global community to assist Africa to address the core problems of climate change, the continent should not sit back and wait for others to solve Africa’s problems.

“If we expect others to address our problems, the result will be destructive,” Zerai said, adding that it is good that Africa is actively finding its own solutions to the challenges including using indigenous knowledge systems to adapt and respond to climate change.

For example, local communities in the Zambezi River Basin have developed systems of gathering, predicting, interpreting, and decision-making in relation to weather, as profiled in the book ‘Responding to Climate Change Impacts: Adaptation and mitigation strategies as practised in the Zambezi River Basin’ published by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre.

The communities are timing the fruiting of certain local trees, the water level in streams and ponds, the nesting behaviour of small quail-like birds, and insect behaviour to forecast any changes in the environment such droughts or floods.

This was echoed by Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who told African leaders at the recent Summit, in her futuristic prediction for 2063, that “By the intelligent application of centuries-old indigenous knowledge, acquired and conserved by African women who have tended crops in all seasons, within the first few years bumper harvests were being reported.

“Agronomists consulted women about the qualities of various grains – which ones survived low rainfalls and which thrived in wet weather; what pests threatened crops and how could they be combated without undermining delicate ecological systems.”

Another key intervention for Africa is improving access to accurate information about climate change and climate change induced conflict.

The African media has been identified as an important player in the global effort to combat the impacts of climate change, particularly in early warning, management and resolution.

Empowering journalist on reporting climate change has resulted in more people knowing the various measures that are available to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Africa is slowly turning to renewable energy sources such as solar, hydro and wind – which are less polluting to the environment compared to other forms such as coal thermal.

Turning to renewables is not only sensible, but fossil fuels and other forms of energy such as coal will not last forever, hence the need to prepare for the future.

Africa has an abundance of renewable energy sources, which, if fully harnessed, could boost power generation in the region.

According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), the continent has the potential to become a “gold mine” for renewable energy due to the abundant solar and wind resources that are now hugely sought after by international investors in their quest for clean energy.

In respect to agriculture, African famers are making changes to their crop and livestock varieties that are more variable and tolerate to extreme conditions.

For example, farmers in Zimbabwe are using new varieties of locally developed maize that matures faster than traditional varieties, as they require less water. 

Africa has made a commitment to speak with one voice at the ongoing climate change negotiations, because disunity could leave the continent exposed to manipulation, which would leave the continent prone to climate change induced effects of migration and conflicts, which have the capacity to destabilise. –

February 2014
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