Africa under water: heightened ‘mega’ crises

Africa contributes the least to global emissions, yet it is being affected by climate change in disproportionate, alarming and life-threatening ways, according to scientists. From Eastern Africa to the Sahel, climate change has made weather patterns more erratic, with prolonged droughts and more severe flooding. About a dozen African countries are under water, with flooding from this year’s rainy season destroying the homes and harvests of millions of vulnerable people. We are seeing the deadly results of the intersection of climate change, chronic vulnerabilities, conflict and now the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eastern Africa

In Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia, humanitarian needs have multiplied this year due to conflict, floods, COVID-19-related economic shocks and the worst desert locust upsurge in generations. Almost 4 million people have already been affected by the floods in East Africa, which began early this year. Torrential rains continue in parts of the region, but the worst may be yet to come as the peak flooding season is expected in November and December.

Sudan is experiencing its worst floods in three decades. Seventeen of its 18 states are affected, and water levels in the Blue Nile are the highest they have been in 100 years. This is exacerbating an economic crisis that has already driven up food insecurity. Some 9.6 million people are severely food insecure, and some 2.7 million children are acutely malnourished.

South Sudan is now at risk of famine. Two consecutive years of severe flooding on top of conflict and pre-existing vulnerability have increased food insecurity, malnutrition and displacement. Vast areas along the River Nile are under water, with more than 600,000 people affected by flooding since July in Jonglei, Lakes, Unity, Upper Nile, and Central and Western Equatoria. Nearly 6.5 million people faced severe food insecurity at the height of the hunger season, and now an additional 1.6 million people need food and livelihoods assistance due to the impact of COVID-19.

Somalia continues to grapple with rapid and extreme weather shifts driven by climate change, as well as chronic poverty and conflict. The compounding effects of flooding and the desert locust upsurge have left 3.5 million people severely food insecure. Since 1990, Somalia has experienced 30 climate-related hazards. This is triple the number of climate-related hazards the country experienced between 1970 and 1990.

West and Central Africa

West Africa and the Sahel are climate change “hotspots”.

Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns linked to climate change in the region are causing more frequent and severe droughts and floods. The resulting land degradation and destruction of crops and pasture threaten the livelihoods of people who mainly rely on agriculture for survival. Most of the flood-affected countries already have a significant proportion of people who are severely food insecure and malnourished. Almost 65 million people in West and Central Africa need humanitarian assistance, most of them living in areas exposed to risks of drought and floods.

In Burkina Faso, central Mali and western Niger—the area known as Central Sahel—a record 10.8 million people need humanitarian assistance and protection this year to survive. This is due to a combination of armed violence and insecurity, the impact of climate change, underlying poverty and weak governance. In less than two years, the number of internally displaced people has risen twentyfold, from 70,000 to 1.4 million. Record hot spells and unpredictable weather, including the current floods, are exacerbating intercommunal tensions and violence. 

The Lake Chad Basin area, which spans north-east Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad and Niger, remains one of the world’s most acute humanitarian crises and stems from the compound impacts of climate change, poverty and violent extremism. Lake Chad has receded to about a tenth of its original size over the past 60 years due to climate change and population pressure. The retreating waters have decimated livelihoods, with fisheries collapsing and soil salinity affecting harvests. The encroaching desert and steadily depleting vegetation and grazing resources in the Lake Chad Basin have led to massive population movement, exacerbating communal clashes among herdsmen and farmers.

Looking forward: anticipating climate-related risks

If not addressed, climate change will continue to threaten the food security, health and nutritional status of millions of people, particularly those who depend on agriculture and farming for their livelihoods.

Urgent action is needed to build resilience to climate change and environmental disasters, and to address tensions before they turn into conflicts. By forecasting climate-related risk, we can trigger pre-positioned financing ahead of an impending climate hazard, and fund anticipatory and early action. This approach saves lives, protects people’s incomes and cuts response costs.

Governments and intergovernmental organizations should invest in improving disaster risk management and reinforce a culture of emergency preparedness, including risk monitoring and early warning, to reduce the impact of climate hazards on vulnerable people.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

Posted by on Oct 1 2020. Filed under top stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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