In November 2021, scientists from the Famine Early Warning System network issued a warning that unprecedented drought was imminent in the Horn of Africa if low seasonal rainfall continued into 2022. Tragically, their prediction turns out to be prescient.
East Africa, and in particular parts of Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya, are experiencing the driest conditions and hottest temperatures since satellite records began. As a result, as many as 13 million people are currently facing severe food and water shortages and 25 million people are predicted to face the same fate by mid-2022.
Scientists blame climate change for the current crisis in a part of the world that is least able to cope. Africa as a whole contributes about 2-3% of global emissions that cause global warming and climate change.
However, the continent is bearing the heaviest impacts of the climate crisis, including increased heat waves, severe droughts and catastrophic cyclones, such as those that have hit Mozambique and Madagascar in recent years.
Furthermore, scientists predict that things will only get worse for Africa if current trends continue. According to the 2022 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change , “Key development sectors have already suffered significant loss and damage from anthropogenic climate change, including biodiversity loss, water shortages, reduced food production, loss of human life and reduced economic growth.”
The current drought in East Africa has been particularly devastating for smallholder farmers and pastoralists in the Horn of Africa, already vulnerable to climatic shocks.
This is why the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is currently supporting 22 African countries to use adaptation solutions based on the ecosystems already present in their environment to strengthen communities against the deadly effects of climate change.
In Djibouti, a small East African nation, for example, UNEP has undertaken three ecosystem-based adaptation projects, including a drought mitigation project aimed specifically at supporting subsistence farmers and pastoralists. whose crops fail and livestock die.
“Ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation, such as planting fast-growing native plant species that can have an immediate impact on the ground, combined with long-term solutions, are incredibly effective in protecting communities from impacts of climate change,” said Eva Comba, Policy Officer in UNEP’s Climate Adaptation Unit.
According to her, restoring existing ecosystems, for example by planting more acacia trees and mangroves, is vital in countries like Djibouti which are vulnerable to droughts, storms, flash floods and coastal erosion.
Among the ecosystem restoration measures Ms. Comba and her UNEP colleagues are working on is the planting of trees on 15 hectares of land. The greenery includes acacia trees, which are ideal plants for providing cooling shade and preventing soil erosion on farmland – a necessity in a hot, dry climate like Djibouti’s.
Another key element of the project is the construction of boreholes and underground water reservoirs that allow subsistence farmers to water their crops in a sustainable way over time.
The replanting and protection of existing mangrove forests is also an important part of UNEP’s ecosystem-based approach to adaptation, particularly in the coastal regions of Djibouti. Mangroves are effective in protecting local communities from storms and in supporting alternative livelihoods, such as fishing and tourism.
Despite the disastrous consequences of climate change in Africa, there are reasons for optimism. UNEP is working with many countries on the continent to ensure that climate change adaptation is mainstreamed into national policies and plans. UNEP is also working with the European Union and the Africa LEDS project to support low-emission development (LEDS) across the continent to unlock socio-economic opportunities while meeting the climate goals of the Paris Agreement .
UNEP has also worked with environment ministers from 54 African countries to create the Africa Green Recovery Programme . This program supports a full green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already cost the continent tens of billions of dollars in lost gross domestic product.
However, there is still a lot of work to be done to mitigate the worst effects of climate change that are yet to come, experts say. According to UNEP’s 2021 Gap between Adaptation Needs and Prospects Report , “Estimated adaptation costs in developing countries are five to ten times higher than current flows of public finance from adaptation. ‘adaptation.” The report also indicates that adaptation costs are expected to reach $280-500 billion per year by 2050 for developing countries.
The current drought in East Africa has sent aid agencies scrambling to avert another famine like the one that hit the same region in 2011 and claimed an estimated 260,000 lives.
If the April rainy season proves as disappointing as the last three, it will mark the longest drought to hit the region since the 1980s, which could lead to a famine of tragic proportions.
“Right now in the Horn of Africa, we are seeing vulnerable communities being disproportionately affected by climate change and being the least able to mitigate its effects,” said Susan Gardner, Director of UNEP’s Ecosystems Division. “To avert a major humanitarian crisis in East Africa, we must provide urgent humanitarian assistance to those in need, while thinking long-term by investing in ecosystem-based adaptation solutions that will save lives, build green economies and protect the environment.”
Source: UN Environment Program