Africa: Climate Change Risk and Adaptation Potential

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With the most recent climate change negotiations finished in Nairobi, much attention has been focused on how Africa will fair under future climate scenarios. Several reports detail how we need not wait to see the impacts of severe weather conditions on the continent, nor do we need to wait to start implementing simple technologies to cope with these impacts.

Three million pastoralists in northern Kenya have been dubbed “climate change canaries,” according to Christian Aid. Their fundamental way of life is in serious danger due to persistent drought, as the incidence of drought has increased fourfold in 25 years. Already, more than a third of the herders surveyed in the Mandera district have had to abandon their traditional way of life because of the dry conditions.

When it comes to drought disrupting fundamental ways of living, the pastoralists will almost certainly not be alone. Meteorologists in the UK expect to see a ten-fold increase in the area susceptible to extreme drought, over the next 100 years. And the portion of Earth’s surface at risk for moderate drought is expected to double to 50% by 2100.

Climate change fears are spurring hopes for concrete action in Africa. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) announced a partnership with the UN Development Program (UNDP) to assist African countries in assessing the risks to development projects posed by erratic weather and sea level rise. Ministers in participating countries will have quick access to specialized assessments of proposed projects, and there will be a focus on helping African countries access money available under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.

A parallel report from UNEP proposes that rainwater harvesting—a simple way of collecting rain on a local level—could satisfy the water needs of much of East Africa’s population. Kenyan women involved in a pilot rainwater harvesting project have gained control over four hours each day that they used to spend collecting and transporting water. The Kenyan Water Minister has announced that all new buildings must be equipped to harvest rainwater. “The water crisis in Africa is more of an economic problem from lack of investment,” concludes the report, “and not a matter of physical scarcity.”