WMO: Climate change hits Africa particularly hard

Boats on the Niger
At the same time, some African countries are struggling with droughts, heavy rainfall and floods. (Quelle: IMAGO / agefotostock)

Climate change is exacerbating the hunger crisis in Africa with rising temperatures, increasing extreme weather and changing rainfall patterns, driving people from their homes. This is according to a report issued by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) together with the African Union and other partners in Geneva on Tuesday. The continent has been disproportionately affected by floods, droughts and landslides, it said.

“The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas at the release of the State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report.

The development underscores the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, do more to mitigate climate change and allocate more money to adaptation processes, Taalas said just over a week before the start of the World Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26).

Extreme temperatures

Global warming and its consequences are already being felt more strongly in Africa than on average worldwide, the report says. 2020 was one of the ten warmest years since measurements began.

In Algeria and Morocco, the monthly average temperatures in 2020 were up to 3.5 degrees Celsius and 4 degrees higher than average, respectively. In July, regional temperatures of around 48 degrees Celsius were reached in both countries. In 2020, Tunisia experienced the third-warmest year since 1950 with an average temperature of over 20 degrees Celsius.

Flood fatalities

The rise in sea level on Africa’s southern coasts is also above the global average. On the South Atlantic coast, it is 3.6 millimeters per year, and 4.1 millimeters on the Indian Ocean. Both the warming of the oceans and the melting of land ice had an effect here. In addition, there was the loss of ice mass in West Antarctica and Greenland, groundwater withdrawals, the construction of reservoirs, and changes in wind and air pressure in the atmosphere.

Floods occurred more frequently in 2020. Many lakes and rivers such as Lake Victoria, the Niger or the Blue Nile reached record highs. Sudan and Kenya were particularly affected, but many other countries in East and West Africa were also affected. 285 people died because of the floods in Kenya alone. In Sudan, there were 155 fatalities and more than 800,000 people affected, for example, people who lost their homes or whose homes became permanently uninhabitable, for example due to landslides. There were also indirect effects, such as disease outbreaks in which pathogens were spread via contaminated drinking water or mosquitoes.

The floods of the Niger River affected nearly 558,000 people in 2020. 66 people died because buildings collapsed and 14 victims drowned. Nearly 52,000 houses and huts were destroyed and 9741 hectares of cultivated land were flooded.

Droughts, famine, locusts

At least the sometimes heavy rainfall in Cape Town, for example, helped to fill the water reservoirs to full capacity. On the other hand, extreme droughts occurred more frequently in southern Africa, peaking in 2018. In some cases, these dry spells had already lasted for around seven years. The Northern and Eastern Cape provinces of South Africa were particularly affected.

The droughts throughout Africa are already having an impact on the food supply of the population: animals are reproducing less and agriculture is generally less profitable. People in West Africa are severely affected by desertification and yield loss. In 2020, the number of people at risk of food insecurity rose to 21.8 million in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone. In Nigeria, food insecurity reached its highest level since records began, with about 9.2 million people affected. According to the United Nations World Food Programme, about 98 million people across Africa suffered from food insecurity and needed humanitarian assistance in 2020. That’s an increase of nearly 40 percent compared to 2019.

According to the WMO, research by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has shown that broader access to early warning systems and information about food prices and weather can reduce the risk of food insecurity by 30 percentage points. For example, text or voice messages could inform when to plant, irrigate or fertilize.

Locust plague in East Africa

Eastern Africa suffered massive crop and pasture losses in 2020 due to a plague of locusts. High rainfall and abnormal vegetation growth would have provided unusually favorable conditions for desert locusts to feed and multiply. Somalia and Ethiopia were particularly affected. Ethiopia lost more than 350,000 tons of grain in 2020, affecting more than 800,000 farm households.

Massive glacier recession

Glacier recession is evident in the three glacier regions (in German) at the Mount Kenya massif in Kenya, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, and the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda. The Mount Kenya massif is expected to become one of the first mountain ranges in the world to lose its glaciers entirely in the 2030s, the report said. The other two mountain ranges could do so in the 2040s if trends remain the same.

The melting of the glaciers on Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro is also a problem for the tourism industry. With the glaciers, an attraction and source of income is lost, which attracts around 25,000 (Mount Kenya) and 10,000 (Kilimanjaro) visitors per year, mainly from Europe and the USA.

Poverty spreads

The consequences of climate change are also coupled with economic slumps, ongoing conflicts and political instability, he said.

“By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people – living on less than $1.90 a day – will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa if adequate response measures are not put in place,” Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, commissioner for agriculture at the African Union Commission, wrote in the report’s foreword. As external conditions become harsher, the number of people affected increases at the same time, she added. In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further reduce gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 3 percent by 2050.

It will be expensive

Compared to many other countries, Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is also because almost half of the population south of the Sahara lives below the poverty line. These people depend on weather-dependent activities such as rain-fed agriculture, livestock farming and fishing. Due to a lack of financial buffers, low levels of education and inadequate health care, they would hardly be able to protect themselves against food shortages or unemployment as a result of climate change.

“Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water and climate observing systems,” Taalas of the World Meteorological Organization writes in the report. Already, he said, African countries are investing a “significant share” of their income in climate mitigation and adaptation, at an estimated 2 to 9 percent of their respective GDPs.

However, the annual cost of adapting to climate change would rise to 50 billion US dollars by 2050, even if it were possible to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. In total, Africa will need investments of more than $3 trillion by 2030 for climate mitigation and adaptation. (dpa / hcz)