State of the Climate in Africa 2021: High water stress to displace up to 700 million Africans by 2030

Extreme weather and climate change are undermining human health and safety, food and water security and socio-economic development in Africa

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 09 September 2022
Glaciers on Mount Kenya (Kenya), Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and the Rwenzori Mountains (Uganda) are retreating at a faster rate than the global mean, according to the State of the Climate in Africa 2021. Photo: iStock

High water stress caused by global warming will displace up to 700 million Africans by 2030. It will also aggravate conflicts on the continent, according to State of the Climate in Africa 2021 released September 8, 2022 at Maputo, Mozambique.

The report also noted that Africa continued to record a warming trend despite accounting for only about 2-3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The continent showed an average increase in warming of approximately +0.3 °C per decade between 1991 and 2021. This was faster than the warming of +0.2 °C per decade which occurred between 1961 and 1990.

The warming is causing extreme weather events such as lingering droughts and devastating floods that ae hitting African communities, economies and ecosystems hard.

State of the Climate in Africa 2021 was released at the ministerial meeting on Integrated Early Warning and Early Action System initiative in Maputo. The report, the third in a series, is a joint initiative between WMO and the African Union Commission.

The warming has caused a disruption in the pattern of rainfall. Glaciers too are disappearing, the report said.

Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and the Rwenzori mountains (Uganda) are retreating at a faster rate than the global mean.

Kilimanjaro could vanish by 2040 due to climate change, the WMO had alerted last year too in the State of the Climate in Africa 2020.  But, the existence of these glaciers in east Africa depends on the amount of future precipitation that falls on the region.

Africa’s freshwater lakes have shrunk. The total surface area of Lake Chad shrank to 1,350 square kilometres in the 2000s, from 25 000 sq km in the 1960s.

Lake Chad, which is located in the Sahel region at the conjunction of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon, is home to 17.4 million people. These countries of the Lake Chad basin are among the 10 least peaceful countries in Africa, according to the Global Terrorism Index report, 2020.

“The drying up of continental water bodies like Lake Chad has significant adverse impacts on the agricultural sector, ecosystems, biodiversity and socioeconomic development,” Petteri Taalas, secretary-general, WMO, said in the foreword of the report.

In West Africa, the report has attributed long-term decline in river flow to increase in temperature, drought, and increased water demand

Demand and supply

Four out of five African countries are unlikely to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030, the report, which has a special focus on water, noted. Increasing demand and decreasing supply of water might worsen conflict, it said.

Africa is not on track to achieve the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) by 2030. Going forward, it will be very difficult for the continent to achieve goals on sustainable development unless actions are taken to address water-related concerns, the report said.

Poor progress on water security will impact at least three SDG goals — poverty alleviation (SDG 1), green energy (SDG 7) and disaster risk reduction (SDG 11)

In 2021, Africa was hit by a number of high-impact events. For example, South Madagascar experienced its worst drought in four decades. Madagascar, blessed with abundant water, underwent a change in its hydrological cycle due to global warming, leading to drought and famine. In North Africa, several episodes of heatwaves and record high temperatures were seen

“The worsening crisis and looming famine in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa shows how climate change can exacerbate water shocks, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and destabiliising communities, countries and entire regions,” Taalas said in a statement September 8.

But despite the increasingly extreme weather, 60 per cent of people in Africa are not covered by early warning systems, the WMO said in its report.

In fact, the number of data observational stations is on the decline, Filipe Lucio, director of the Global Framework for Climate Services, WMO told Down to Earth.

WMO is spearheading an initiative to provide everyone on the planet with early warnings in the next five years. There is a need to invest in end-to-end drought and flood early warning systems in at-risk least developed countries, especially for drought warnings in Africa, the WMO said in the report’s recommendations section.

Leaders at the recent Africa adaptation summit had called for doubling of adaptation finance ahead of the 27th Conference of parties to the United Nations framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Now, this report too contributes to the African agenda at CoP 27 and its findings must be recognised.

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