By Sharon Atieno

With increased temperatures, sea level rise, changing precipitation patterns and more extreme weather globally, climate change is set to hit Africa hard.

Speaking during a press briefing convened by Africa Science Media Centre (AfriSMC), Prof. Shem Wandiga, former Acting Director Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation (ICCA), acknowledged that climate change is a threat to survival of the African continent as its impacts pose a threat to human health, food and water security as well as socio-economic development in the region.

He noted that agricultural production and food security will be the most adversely affected with arid and semi-arid land set to increase by 60 to 90 million. He added that climate change will not only decrease crop yields but lead to some crops like wheat disappearing in the continent.

“Crop net revenues will likely fall by as much as 90% by 2100, with small scale farms being the most affected. In Egypt, for example, climate change could decrease national production of many crops (ranging from-11% for rice to -28% for soybeans) by the year 2050,” Prof. Wandiga said.

The agricultural loss in parts of the sub-Sahara Africa will affect between 2 to 7% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2100, he added.

Climate change and variability, Prof. Wandiga stated, will lead to increased pressures on water availability, water accessibility and water demand in Africa, with Northern and Southern Africa likely to have more cases.

He projected that the number of people at risk of increased water stress in Africa will increase from 75 to 250 million people in 2020 to rise markedly to 350-600 million people by 2050. Already major lakes like Lake Chad have more or less disappeared. Lake Turkana in Kenya, too, is threatened with extinction.

Further, Prof. Wandiga added that though projections show that Eastern Africa should experience more rainfall as the globe is warming, observation on the ground is reflecting otherwise, thus the rainfall anomaly in the region will likely lead to increased water stress in eastern and western Africa regions.

“A 3 degrees’ temperature increase could lead to 0.4 to 1.8 billion more people at risk of water stress,” he cautioned.

Climate change catalyzed by human drivers such as mining and deforestation risk changing the ecosystem completely. The increasing frequency violent tropical cyclones in Indian Ocean affecting many countries such as Mozambique and Malawi among others countries are just warning signs.

Melting and or disappearing mountain snows caps is another doomful moniker. The ice cap on Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, could disappear altogether in the next few years “as it is hardly there during the dry season and only appears during rainy season”, he notes.

In a number of national parks in sub- Saharan Africa about 10-15% of the species will be classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in critically endangered or extinct categories by 2050, increasing to 25-40% of species by 2080. This in turn would have a negative impact on tourism, leading to revenue losses, Prof. Wandiga added.

At the same time forests are also changing noting that some will die while others will migrate from where they were to other regions, thus forcing people to look at new types of trees which are suitable for their environments.

The former Acting Director ICCA said that new diseases are likely to emerge due to lack of food and resources which will drive human beings to unknown areas in search of these products.  This, he notes will lead to transmission of diseases from animals to humans and vice versa like in the case of COVID-19.

In conclusion, Prof. Wandiga called on African governments to regard climate change as a sustainable development issue that needs urgent attention by addressing the factors that accelerate the change.

“Environmental impacts are influencing socio-economic development parts for instance, main drivers of economic growth which are technology, governance structures, energy and land use. How we use these socio-economic assets impacts on the reproduction of atmospheric gases which causes climate systems to change and climate systems impact humans and natural systems,” he said.

Prof Wandiga noted that with these impacts, African governments cannot afford to fold their arms and wait for aid to come from industrialized countries. “Africa needs to have and implement strategies for adaptation,” he said.

The urgency of this call needs no gainsaying for the signs of climate change-induced danger are all to clear for all to see. In the Kenyan Rift Valley, for instance, lakes burst their banks thereby forcing residents to move out, schools to close down, hotels to shut their doors.

Roads, bridges and farms have been submerged completely with untold dire economic consequences. The outbreak of armies of locust is another distressful sign of the dangers of not treating climate change and climate variability as emergencies requiring immediate remedial action.

The time to heed Professor Wandiga’s call to action is now!