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Climate Carnage

Is Africa facing a new kind of climate war?

09 November 2022

Addressing the full session of the UN’s most representative body, Secretary-General António Guterres recalled to the UN General Assembly what he saw in Pakistan as “a level of climate carnage beyond imagination”. It was the first time a high-ranking official used such a term. Pakistan had seen one of the most devastating climate disasters in its entire recorded history, as floods covered massive areas of lands equivalent to the UK. More than 1,400 people lost their lives, millions have been displaced, and the cascading calamities are countless: threats of cholera, malaria and dengue fever claiming “far more lives than the floods”; two million damaged or destroyed homes and more than two million families without their possessions. 

Structural Flaws

Children learn in school that earth’s climate changes all the time. But unrestrained human activity and the ongoing industrial revolution has accelerated the climate change manifold. These changes, quickly becoming carnage, have unreversible, ever-lasting consequences to our planet, impacting every single economic sector, from health, to food, and all other essential industries. 

Climate change threatens much of Africa’s sustainable development achievements and aims. Africa’s food and water security are at danger of destructive climate change, threating every aspect of the continent’s social, economic, and political stability. Amid severe change in seasons and climate cycles, mass people movement has increased dramatically over the past decades, impacting social demography and lifestyles. Yet there is still hope for action to save the planet from unreversible damage. The UAE, being one of the region’s first to capitalise on tech innovation and knowledge-based investments, to make real contributions to solve climate change.

Africa faces big climate challenges that has been exacerbated by global developmental inequalities. It so happens to be the case that the least prepared nations and the most vulnerable people are those contributing the least to the climate crises. Thus, if the least developed countries aim to achieve their goals by following the same route of developed countries, through the burning of coal and removing forests for instance, their aims would only exacerbate the existing climate problem. 

Rich countries demand everyone, including least developed countries, to adhere to climate solutions, yet do not support the most exposed and most vulnerable neither with the technology, nor the investment they require. Climate experts estimate that by 2023 more than 118 million people under the poverty line in Africa will be the most exposed to floods and extreme heat waves. Unless effective solutions are implemented immediately, the African Union’s Agriculture, Rural Development and Sustainable Environment commission has said millions of Africans will face famine and displacement in the coming few years. But the climate catastrophe will not impact Africa alone. Small farmers around the world are worried the supply network will be deeply disrupted by the climate crises and would go beyond the continent. 

Implications of Climate Crisis 

Experts are forecasting seven implications of climate change impact on Africa, which may be summarised as follows:

1. Flooding:

One of the clearest and most immediate consequences of climate change, floodings threatens vast areas of Africa. In recent history African populations across the continent suffered the dire consequences of these occurrences: In northern Algeria in 2001 where more than 800 people lost their lives and costs were estimated at USD 400 million; in Mozambique where two back-to-back cyclones cause long-lived catastrophic damages and a humanitarian crisis, leaving more than 1,500 people dead and millions displaced; and in Nigeria, 33 out of 36 states have suffered floodings that damaged agricultural lands, which exacerbated the humanitarian situation of the war and famine-ridden country. 

2. Global warming:

Climate scientists have warned that global temperature may well rise 3ºC before the end of this century. Its effects would be felt differently around the world, but nowhere would be immune. Prolonged heatwaves, droughts and extreme weather events could all become increasingly common and severe. Africa, however, may face increased heat rise by 2 to 3 degrees, particularly in southern and western regions. Places like Namibia and Botswana, where deforestation is at pace, would experience extreme heat waves more than the rest of the continent. 

3. Droughts: 

Heat waves causing extreme droughts have driven conflict between farmers and shepherds, leading to tribal conflicts. Terrorist groups of took advantage of those dire conditions to recruit vulnerable people, while governments failed to face the challenge. Across the continent more than 36.1 million have lived through extreme droughts, including 24.1 million in Ethiopia, 7.8 million in Somalia, and 4.2 million in Kenya. That number is far greater than same time last year when nearly 19.4 million people lived through droughts. More areas in Africa and countries like Ethiopia are getting impacted by droughts. 

4. Drinking water supplies: 

Droughts and floodings impact clean drinking water. Rain seasons, rivers drying up, and glaciers melting, all are some of the consequences of climate change that have serious impact on people’s lives. The economy of some African countries like Ghana relies heavily on water supplies for electricity generation. In Mali, people’s livelihood is highly dependent on the country’s main source of fresh water, the Niger River. However, floods cause rivers and freshwater reservoirs to be polluted, depriving millions of people from any other alternative to drinking water. Too, glaciers of Kilimanjaro Mountain are melting due to abnormal heat levels, thus turning Kenyan lands into swamps that impact the biological ecosystem of the entire region. Increasingly, diminishing water supplies has become a matter of national security for countries in Africa, and the ongoing rift between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia over the latter’s Renaissance Dam is just one example. 

5. Economic ramifications: 

Warmer temperatures, floods, and extreme weather conditions have direct impact on infrastructure, human productivity, and would seriously affect investments in essential sectors such as agriculture and tourism. Agriculture, especially, is highly sensitive to climate change. By 2050, the GDP of Sub-Saharan Africa is expected to dip by 3%, aggravating the livelihood of more than 400 million people who live below the poverty line which is set at USD 1.90 per day. That’s one in three African’s lives being impacted, unable to access health services, proper education, and essential amenities.  

6. Agriculture: 

Droughts and floods render vast acres of lands unproductive. The consequence for such catastrophes is deep for many countries which domestic income depends on, reducing food production across the entire continent. Rainfed agriculture in Sahel would suffer greatly due to rain deficiency. Facing severe droughts 1.5 times faster than the rest of Africa, crops and pastures are likely to disappear permanently from the region by the end of the century, leaving the region’s economy seriously compromised. Other areas would suffer from unexpected levels of rainfall, causing floodings that turn pastures into wetlands that cannot be utilised for cattle. These seemingly paradoxical effects of climate change have devastating consequences on the continent all the same. At this rate, crop yields in Africa are expected to drop drastically across the continent, some areas more than others; South Africa, for instance, will see 20% rainfall deficiency by 2030. 

7. Displacement and mass movement:

Climate change has impact on ability of populations to remain in certain urban areas where conditions would become too challenging. Urbanization and cross-border movement would accelerate, posing serious risks to security and resources. Darfur has been described as the first of its kind climate change conflict driven by rapid desertification and droughts, which is predicted to continue for the future. 

Climate Securitization 

The growing view of climate change as a security issue was captured by the Guterres’ warning at the UN General Assembly. Describing the situation in Pakistan as a ‘climate carnage’ is set to direct the world’s attention to the seriousness of the issue. In 2007, the UN Security Council first discussed climate change, marking the securitisation of the issue. The focus since has shifted towards the impact it has on Africa beyond the Darfur conflict, which has been worsened by climate catastrophes. International experts have established direct and indirect links to ethnic conflict in Africa and climate change but resolving the impact of climate change in Africa would require the engagement of African researchers who have access to primary data and first-hand knowledge of their region. Would Africa witness a new generation of conflict in the face of climate change?