By Sharon Atieno
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned against serious and irreparable damages if global warming is not limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius. They call for a reduction in carbon dioxide emission and dealing with the current amount trapped in the atmosphere.
The effects of climate change have been severe resulting in shrinking of glaciers, loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves. Africa has not been spared.
Climate change is a leading cause of food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa. Africa remains the continent with the highest Prevalence of Undernourishment (PoU), affecting almost 21 percent of the population (more than 256 million people), according to the 2018 report titled The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The report further indicates that there is a high burden of acute malnutrition in areas or countries affected by drought or floods including northern Kenya, Ethiopia and Madagascar.
“A hotter Africa is a hungrier Africa. Today at only 1.1 degrees of warming globally, crops and livestock across the region are being hit and hunger is rising, with poor small scale women farmers, living in rural areas suffering the most. It only gets worse from here,” lamented Apollos Nwafor, Pan Africa Director of Oxfam International.
Temperatures throughout Africa are rising, a phenomenon which is associated with climate change. In July, Africa’s hottest reliable record temperature was registered in Ouargla, northern Algeria, at 51.3C. The 2017 drought is described by the United Nation’s report Horn of Africa: Call for Action, as the worst compared to the 2010 and 2011 droughts leaving 12.8 million people in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Somalia food insecure.
Increased temperatures result in low or scarce rainfall and as a result, there is reduced yields and low production. This in turn results to low income especially for pastoralists and small scale farmers. They are not only unable to meet their food needs but they cannot also engage in trade. When agricultural production is negatively impacted, demand for agricultural labour also decreases, thus indirectly affecting access to food and income for rural agriculture labourers.
Varying and extreme climate not only results to destruction of crops but also livestock. Rift Valley Fever (RVF), prevalent in most parts of Africa, is a mosquito-borne viral disease in livestock that has led to high levels of morbidity and mortality among affected animals. RVF outbreaks and patterns are closely associated with shifts from El Niño to La Niña. Over half of El Niño occurrences in East Africa have been accompanied by corresponding RVF outbreaks. An RVF outbreak in northeastern Kenya in 2006–2007 killed more than 420 000 sheep and goats and projected milk losses were estimated to be more than 2.5 million litres due to abortions in cattle and camels.
In coping with food and income reduction due to climate shocks, dietary diversity and quality is severely affected. People are forced to eat fewer meals and small amounts of each meal with little or no regard to whether it is nutritious or not. In Rufiji, on the Tanzanian Coast, people eat two or even one meal including in their diet stiff porridge and cooked unripe mangoes.
Climate experts have noted that even at 1.5 degrees of warming, climate impacts in West Africa would be overwhelming. Wheat yields could fall by up to 25 percent and at 1.5 degrees Lagos in Nigeria could become a newly heat stressed city like Delhi in India.
According to a 2013 World Bank report named Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience In sub-Saharan Africa 1.5 degrees warming by the 2030s could lead to about 40 percent of present maize cropping areas being no longer suitable for current cultivars, and significant negative impacts on sorghum suitability are projected.
“Climate change has set our planet on fire, millions are already feeling the impacts, and the IPCC just showed that things can get much worse. Settling for 2 degrees would be a death sentence for people in many parts of Africa,” Nwafor stresses.
The 2013 World Bank report further indicates that in less than 2 degrees of warming by the 2050s, total crop production could be reduced by 10 percent. At 2 degrees of warming, heat extremes could affect 15 percent of sub-Saharan Africa’s land area in the hot season causing deaths and threatening farmers’ ability to grow crops, the report adds.
Scientists like Jos Lelieveld foresee that by 2050 daytime temperatures in North Africa (and the Middle East) could rise to 46 degrees on the hottest days, if global temperature rises by more than 2 degrees by the end of the century, which will cause more harm than good.
African governments have to take responsibility to ensure that they adhere to IPCC’s warning by encouraging citizens to safeguard their environment, planting trees, stopping use of fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. They should also build resilience of citizens to cope with extreme climatic conditions.