African deltas suffer early impacts of climate change

Posted: 30 August 2009

Author: Etiosa Uyigue

The Niger Delta in Nigeria, is home to about a quarter of the country's population. But climate change and rising sea levels are bringing floods and salt water into this fertile region, reports Etiosa Uyigue.

Between 1960 and 1970, a mean sea level rise of 0.462m was recorded along the Nigerian coast (largely due to local coastal subsidence or sinking). Flooding of low-lying areas in the Niger Delta region has already been observed, and with further impacts from climate change, problems with floods and intrusion of sea-water into freshwater sources and ecosystems are bound to increase.

This is expected to destabilize mangrove systems and affect agriculture, fisheries and livelihoods in general. Experts say the Niger Delta could lose over 15,000 km2 of land by the year 2100 with a one metre rise in sea level, while at least 80 per cent of the people of the Niger Delta would be displaced.

At the same time, Nigeria has seen a decline in rainfall since the beginning of the 1960s. Farmers can no longer predict the rain and know precisely when to plant their crops. Farmers usually begin cultivation at the end of the dry season, when the rain begins to fall. They plant their crops after the first or second rain in the month of March or April.

After the first rain, rain falls periodically until the months of June/July (the peak of the rainy season). Rainfall within the period before the peak is needed for the optimum performance of many crops. Because of changes in the rainfall pattern, however, farmers who plant after the first or second rain, experience huge losses when rains are delayed beyond the usual, due to climatic changes.

A report by Etiosa Uyigue, from the Community Research and Development Centre, in Nigeria, says some house-holders in the Niger Delta region, have had to abandon their homes as a result of the floods, leaving them vulnerable to water-related disease such as malaria, dysentery, cholera, and diarrhea.

Trauma resulting from the problem can lead to non-pathogenic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. In some other instances, some areas are cut off from other parts of the community as a result of flood. Moreover, flood and erosion remove top soil, destroy roads, affect fresh water resources and threaten lives and properties.

A separate report from Kenya says the The Tana Delta wetlands, which supports a large farming population, are also suffering from the impact of climate change. Some areas are becoming seasonal while others have dried out completely. Some local pastoralists have lost almost all their flocks due to the continued dry spell.

These critical ecosystems used to act as fallback areas for cattle grazing during the dry season. But salt infiltration into farms is now being experienced by farmers who have never witnessed this before. This is thought to result from rising sea levels and to be due to the fact that the mangrove vegetation along the coast has been degraded through deforestation.

Source: Forum for Indigenous Peoples, Small Islands and Vulnerable Communities