It’s Time to Take Climate Change Seriously in East Africa

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Previous research on climate change had suggested the African continent would benefit from warmer global temperatures because it was believed lower temperatures would be expected to boost rainfall and restore the lush greenery to the arid landscape.

However, the ground breaking research for the past couple of years proves that it is in fact the opposite. Due to climate change the land is drying and greenhouse gas emissions are soaring making the African continent the most vulnerable. According to Peter deMenocal from Center for Climate and Life at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory,

“right now, aid groups are expecting a wetter, greener future for the Horn of Africa; however, the region is drying and will continue to do so with rising carbon emissions.”

Peter deMenocal who co-authored the study that illustrates Africa’s vulnerabilities to climate change found that “this region-specific study contradicted the conclusions of more optimistic global models, which predicted heavier rainfall during the African region’s “short rains” season from September to November. The new study suggested those gains in rainfall will be offset by declining rainfall and severe dryness during the “long rains” season from March to May -- the period on which most of the region’s crops rely for moisture.” Therefore, it is not due lack of rain but the timing of the rain.

The UN concedes that this is a major issue stating that

“projections of warming across Africa vary from 0.2C°C per decade to more than 0.5°C. Even though the rainfall is predicted to increase by seven percent in East Africa – the farmers care more about the correlation of the rainfall with the planting season and the geographic distribution of rain.”

(UNEP, 2014) The Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa predicts that

“warming will reduce the incomes of cattle farmers in Africa by 26 percent. Agricultural production may also be impacted: the United Kingdom's Division for International Development projects that crop yields of rice, maize, and wheat will fall up to 10 percent in Somalia and across the Sahel region by 2030.”

(CEEPA, 2015) These statements seem to confirm the agricultural events in the past year across Africa. Ethiopia is currently experiencing below-average rainfall which hurts its livestock and crops industry affecting more than 5 million people. Food shortage or insecurity is being experienced in Malawi and Mozambique. There are continued droughts in pockets of South Africa. Zimbabwe continues to have maize and crop shortages due to droughts. Climate change keeps decimating the Southern African Development Community’s corn and wheat production and forcing prices to creep up.

Africa is especially vulnerable to climate change due to various factors ranging from governance to its dependence on its natural resources. Somalia tends to be on the more extreme end of this vulnerability matrix. Even though African farmers have been resilient due to environmental conditions, there need to be concrete ways of rehabilitating land degraded by overgrazing and drought and a clearer path for livestock allocation. There needs to be an active agenda to create an agricultural productivity that is sustainable. The immediate link between alleviating poverty and food security to climate change is not stressed enough. Climate change exacerbates the existing problems by creating uncertainty in an environment where certainty is paramount. For a country like Somalia where we still lack a viable governance structure, have poor land practice, endemic poverty and continued remnants of violence and extremism – climate change will compound these existing vulnerabilities, making future crises like the famine in 2010-2012 even more severe. The FAO estimated that around 260,000 people died of this famine during this period of time with half of the people being children under the age of 5. According to Rudi Van Aaken, the deputy head of the FAO operation for Somalia stated that

“what occurred in Somalia was one of the worst famines in the last 25 years.”

(BBC, 2013)

We have to take climate change seriously and acknowledge that it is gravely affecting our communities currently and in the future. We have to understand that it is directly tied to Somalia’s future food security and there needs to be shift to acknowledge the impact this has on agriculture and livestock. Although the intensity of the impact is not known because there is dearth of research to examine the consequences of climate change for Somalia, the World Bank has just started focusing the assessment of the long-term water supply and reliability in the region. So far, the World Bank states

“analytical work focused on analyzing adaptation options through local institutions, and conducting vulnerability assessment with particular attention to migration, youth issues, and indigenous peoples.”

(World Bank, 2014) However, it is up to our government and public institutions to invest in research and advisory services to develop and disseminate adaptation options, and scaling-up investments that build the appropriate infrastructure and resiliency. Therefore, it’s no longer a question of “if” climate change will affect us but “when” it will affect us and the faster we acknowledge its imminent impact – the better policies we will be able to develop on the macro and micro level. The Somali government needs to empower the current local pastoral and environmental networks operating in Somalia instead of relying on UN agencies (WFP, UNHCR, and FAO) to fill the void and figuring out innovative methods of involving the private sector.

By: Sagal B.H. Musa
July 2016

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