Climate change 'will hit Africa hardest'

Posted: 2 February 2005

Urgent action must be taken in order to prevent Africa from bearing the brunt of global warming, a scientific conference on climate change was told today.

Woman collecting water, Tanzania. Photo: WaterAid/Jim Holmes
Woman collecting water, Tanzania. Photo: WaterAid/Jim Holmes
Woman collecting water, Tanzania© WaterAid/Jim Holmes
If current trends continued, temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa could rise by 2C with rainfall declining by 10 per cent, according to Anthony Nyong, a scientist at Jos university in Nigeria. "There must be substantial and genuine reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by the principal emitters," Dr Nyong wrote in a paper presented to the conference, taking place in Exeter.

The event was called by the prime minister, Tony Blair, in order to stress to world leaders the importance of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Mr Blair has pledged to make Africa and curbing climate change the top priorities for the UK's presidency of the G8 group of the world's eight richest nations this year.

Dr Nyong said the G8 accounted for almost half the global carbon dioxide emissions in 1999. Scientists say carbon dioxide is a major factor in climate change, with most agreeing that much of it is caused by car exhausts and electricity generation.

The US stands almost alone in the developed world, however, in disputing this human element in the phenomenon.

Africa vulnerable

While global warming was a crisis for the whole world, Dr Nyong wrote, Africa was particularly ill-equipped to deal with the situation because of water shortages and dependence on agriculture for food and export earnings.

"Africa's high vulnerability is not only due to climate change but a combination of other stresses," he said. "Such stresses include poverty, wars and conflicts, limited technological development, a high disease burden and a rapid population growth rate.

"Every record shows that climate change is happening - both past records and predictive models. What is less well discussed or studied is the potentially devastating impact of climate change on poverty eradication. The reality is that they go hand in hand and cannot be separated."

The Worldwide Fund for Nature, which sponsored Dr Nyong's paper, described it as a wake-up call to the world. "If global warming is not tackled, the viability of millions of people's livelihoods in Africa will be undermined," Catarina Cardoso, the organisation's UK head of climate change, said.

"Without significant new resources, millions of others won't be able to adapt to changes that are already happening. We need a commitment from governments that they will curb emissions now to cap the rise at two degrees - that is the tipping point," she added. "There must also be new funds to help the poor cope with the climate change that will take place."

Hunger and disease

The Worldwide Fund for Nature said that, by the 2080s, climate change would have put an extra 80-120 million people at risk of hunger, up to 80 per cent of whom would be in Africa because of its dependence on ecosystems that would be the first to disappear.

In addition, a temperature rise of 2C would lead to a huge rise in the contraction of diseases. In South Africa, it is estimated that the area in which malaria is prevalent would double, and that the number of people at risk would soar by up to 7.2 million.

The spread of the disease would also damage economies, with resources being redirected away from economic development in order to maintain people's health. Climate change is also forecast to impact on health through the extinction of plant species used in traditional medicines. The World Health Organisation estimates that 80 per cent of the world's population in developing countries rely on such plants for primary health care.

logo Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005. This article was first published by The Guardian, (Wednesday February 2, 2005). All rights reserved. Reproduced with kind permission.

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