Climate Watch

Time to talk about a climate crisis in Africa?

Hunger clouds over Africa
Hunger clouds.jpg

The need to find lasting solutions to some of mankind’s biggest challenges is highlighted by the drought threatening to bring southern Africa to its knees, as well as by the 21st COP meeting in Paris, placing climate change in the spotlight.

Expectations are higher than ever that the Conference of the Parties (COP) under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will deliver results when delegates of over 200 countries meet in Paris this week.

Some activists argue that it would be more correct to start talking about a climate crisis, rather than climate change. And it could be argued that the current drought in southern Africa, the worst in decades, vindicates this view.

The negative effect of climate change has progressed far beyond the lasting scars it has inflicted on the environment. It has become a socio-political, economic, security, health and budgetary problem of immense global proportions.


To some extent this has already been manifested by the drought that is currently ravaging southern Africa.

The price of basic foods has been rising steadily and there are warnings that steep further increases are inevitable as the consequences of the drought really begin to impact. Crop farmers are unable to plant and livestock farmers are obliged to reduce their flock drastically.

Meteorologists predict that the drought will persist past the forthcoming agricultural season that runs from October 2015 to March 2016.

With sharp food price increases expected and water shortages also on the cards, the possibility across the region of public protests, which could turn violent, cannot be discounted. The Arab Spring, we are reminded, was sparked by, inter alia, escalating food prices.   

Poorer households are hardest hit because a third of their expenditure goes to food, more than three times the proportion of wealthier families’ food spend.

Coupled with a weak economy, hovering on the brink of a recession, rising unemployment and higher interest rates, South Africa is facing a torrid time, with all  the ingredients in place for a perfect storm.

In South Africa, southern Africa’s strongest economy by a long shot, the effect of the drought is compounded by its currency dropping by a whopping 18% against the dollar, putting tremendous pressure on the cost of imported food products.

For the first time in seven years South Africa is a net food importer, importing white maize from Mexico and Zambia and yellow maize from Argentina and Brazil.

It is estimated that South Africa will need to import approximately 770 000 tons of maize this season at a cost of about R2.5 billion at current prices and tonnages.

The price of yellow maize, mainly used as animal fodder, increased by 47% this year to an all-time high on the South African Futures Exchange.

White maize, the staple diet of those in the lower income bracket, has climbed by 52%.

Against this backdrop, the forecast is that food inflation is set to accelerate to above 10% by the middle of next year – more than double the current pace.

It is predicted that failed harvests during the 2014/2015 summer, together with the effects of the current drought conditions in Angola, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, will leave an estimated 27.4 million people in southern Africa food-insecure over the next six months.

Climate change

Amidst this gloom and doom the World Bank has just announced a US$16 billion African Climate Business Plan to help African communities adapt to climate change.

The plan outlines steps for safeguarding land, water, cities and humans from adverse climate change effects such as extreme weather. It also aims to build more renewable energy and institute early warning systems.

Climate change is inevitable and the best option to limit its impact is to address those issues which can be managed. The World Bank has warned that climate change could lead to 43 million more Africans living in poverty by 2030 unless action is taken.

The US$16 billion will go a long way towards alleviating the most urgent challenges, but more is needed.

A new United Nations study estimates that US$ 50 billion is urgently required, or an already bad climate change picture could get uglier fast. The money is needed to allow Africa to initiate adaptation measures to climate change, urgently and successfully.

The Africa Adaptation Gap Report follows on an earlier UN environmental programme (UNEP) study that highlighted the dangers to Africa if further action to address climate change is delayed.

According to the study, Africa’s adaptation costs could rise to US$50 billion a year by 2050, even if global warming is held to below 2 °C, which is the international goal for limiting global warming. A warming of 2°C would put over half the continent’s population at risk of undernourishment.

Costs could, however, double to US$100 billion, or 6% of Africa’s GDP, if the world’s current course on a path to a 4°C increase is not arrested.

By 2100, sea level rise along the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coastlines could, on current course, be 80 centimetres higher than in 2000, above the global 70 cm average. It would place the coastal cities of Mozambique, Tanzania, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal and Morocco at risk of major flooding.

Adaptation to the challenges of climate change is a matter of the utmost urgency for Africa. It is the continent where a rapidly changing climate will deviate from ‘normal’ earlier than anywhere else on earth.

                                                                                                                                                                                        by Garth Cilliers

Also read: Recession not in the stats but in the streets

                    Keep a weather eye on the terror of climate change        

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