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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Africa Cannot Ignore Climate Change

Today climate change adaptation and mitigation is no longer merely a policy aspiration-it is an imperative. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes that climate change is unequivocal. The report also reaffirms that climate change will have disproportionately harmful effects in Africa where human health and agriculture will be under particular threat from climate change. Failing farms will erode the asset base, increase poverty as households invest their little income and meager savings just to survive. As a result warmer climates, drought, low agricultural productivity, millions of people are potentially at risk of hunger, malnutrition, water related and vector borne diseases.

The impacts of climate change in Africa relate to several factors associated with the vulnerability of African societies and the sensitivity of a fragile environment. Important factors here are high dependency on low technology rain-fed subsistence agriculture, rapid population growth, limited surface water, resource conflict, poor infrastructure, disease burden and poverty. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in general, have a low institutional and financial capacity to adapt to changes.

Reduction of vulnerability to climate change is clearly a more realistic adaptation policy for Sub-Saharan Africa. This vulnerability relates to several critical sectors: the dependency on biomass constitutes a serious energy management issue in Africa, often leading to local deforestation and threatens water supplies and biodiversity. Thus, increasing the range of substitution possibilities for household energy consumption constitutes an adaptation measure. In rain-fed agriculture, small climatic changes often have profound implications on household food security, nutrition and income. Agricultural research promoting drought-resistant seeds or climate-adapted species or water use efficiency, or developing new sources of income for households can reduce vulnerability. Climate change and variability is also expected to lead to changes in disease transmission, range, prevalence and incidence.

Food insecurity and malnutrition are also likely to be further aggravated by climate change interacting with other multiple stressors such as emerging and re-emerging vector-and water-borne diseases, HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty, conflict and weak institutions weak institutions and limited knowledge and capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change.

Climate change therefore threatens long term sustainability and attainment of the Millennium Development Goals for 2015 in Sub Saharan Africa. Hence, improved adaptation capability will be of must be a higher order priority among Sub-Saharan African countries.

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