Global climate challenges: A SADC cry for water, energy and food security

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By Dr. M. Amweelo    

While the entire world is struggling with the challenges presented by the changing global climate change, Southern Africa is uniquely susceptible to the impact of climate change.

SADC is a regional economic community comprising 16 Southern African states, namely Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

The region has a combined area of 986,246,000 hectares, of which only 6.11% is cultivated. Seventy-five percent of the region is either arid or semi-arid, with a highly variable and uneven climate through the region, varying from desert, through temperate, savannah, and equatorial. Rainfall varies between 650 mm in the driest areas and 2000 mm in the wettest regions.

Agriculture is the largest sector employing about 70% of the working class, yet it is mainly rain fed. Agriculture alone sustains the livelihoods of over 60% of the population. Land with irrigation potential is approximately 20 million ha, of which only 3.9 million ha is equipped for irrigation, accounting for about 6.6% of cultivated area.

The region is endowed with vast but unexploited energy resources. The resource rich 15 transboundary river basins of the region are an opportunity for regional integration and cooperation. In the coming decades, the SADC region is expected to experience higher land and ocean surface temperatures than in the past, which will affect rainfall, winds, and the timing and intensity of weather events.

Climate change poses a number of risks to SADC goals for regional economic development. Increased frequency of floods, cyclones, and droughts may damage infrastructure, destroy agricultural crops, disrupt livelihoods, and cause loss of life. As adaptation to climate change involves many factors of progress in Southern Africa, SADC is committed to several international conventions and programmes on climate change.

Although many sectors are dealing with the impact of climate change, water resources are particularly affected. Already unreliable in much of the SADC region, access to water is predicted to become more challenging with the continued onset of climate change. Consequently, the SADC Secretariat has been working on the development of a Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) Strategy for the Water Sector.

The main goal of the strategy is to lessen impacts of climate change through adaptive water resources development and management in the Southern African region. SADC intends to achieve this goal through development of all aspects of the water sector as a means for decreasing climate vulnerability and ensuring that water management practices cope with increased climate variability.

The Climate Change Adaptation (CCA) Strategy recognises that water issues impact a range of sectors, including EnergyHealth, and Agriculture. Likewise, adaptation measures are required at different levels of governance and management oversight. Therefore, water use in the region requires an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach, which offers a goal-oriented system of controlling use of water as a means of slowing the effects of climate change in the region. At the regional level, SADC Region has responded to the impacts of climate change by initiating the development of a regional programme on climate change which is still in the development phase.

The development of this programme was guided by the report on the Southern Africa Sub-regional Framework of Climate Change Programmes. The report was an assessment of the stop gap measures being undertaken in the region to combat climate change. Its development was supported by the AMCEN Secretariat following the African Ministerial Conference on Environment’s decision that mandated the AMCEN Secretariat to facilitate the development of these sub-regional reports.

The sub-regional report also provided input into the African framework of sub regional climate change programmes. The SADC Secretariat is also jointly, with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC), facilitating the implementation of a Tripartite Programme on Climate Change that is jointly funded by the Norwegian government through the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the European Union Commission (EUC) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID)

The programme “aims to inject Africa’s Unified Position on Climate Change into the post-2012 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) global agreement so as to unlock resources for promoting strategic interventions that sustain productivity and livelihood improvements for millions of climate-vulnerable people in the region.  It is anticipated that by 2050, water and food demands will have increased by over 50%, while the global demand for energy would have nearly doubled, leading to competing needs for limited resources.

These challenges would exacerbate a host of other challenges such as malnutrition, poor health and sanitation as well as migration. As average temperatures rise worldwide, the water cycle is being affected through increased evaporation and changing precipitation patterns. More intense and frequent storms, combined with increased run-off, are leading to more frequent flooding. Climate-related floods pose a serious threat to national economies and sustainable development.

Southern Africa is one of the five regions in the world exposed to serious risk of flooding in coastal and deltaic areas. At the same time, water scarcity has also intensified through disrupted rainfall patterns, increased evaporation loss and increased water demand in all sectors.

Drought-prone areas of Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe are likely to be more vulnerable to climate change than the more humid areas of Tanzania or Zambia (IPCC, 2008). In its Fourth Assessment Report, the IPCC has concluded that there is a 90 percent probability that the extent of drought-affected areas will increase. In addition, projected sea level rise is expected to affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations, with associated costs estimated at least 5 to 10 % of gross domestic product (GDP).

Sea level rise represents a threat to the region through saltwater intrusion, coastal erosion and the degradation of groundwater in coastal areas. Sea level rise will be an important challenge especially in the island states or in Mozambique, where more than 60% of the population lives within 50 km of the coast. These effects will only be felt toward the end of the 21st century. The increasing body of evidence on climate change impacts, as well as increasing demand from a growing population, requires a cross-sectoral approach such as the Water Energy Food nexus (WEF), to promote sustainable development. The WEF nexus provides a framework for managing synergies and trade-offs between water, energy, and food in the context of emerging constraints on sustainable development. The WEF nexus, as a socio-ecological systems approach, provides an opportunity to sustainably address complex problems such as climate change adaptation, while still promoting regional economic development. The good news, according to the climate scientists took into account oceanic and atmosphere factors that influence climate over southern Africa, including the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) at the moment is in its neutral phase, therefore the regional rainfall pattern for the 2019/20 agricultural season is encouraging as parts of Southern Africa are expected to receive adequate rainfall in the first half of the season. This is an improvement from the previous season where less rainfall resulted in adverse impacts on agriculture, water resources and hydropower generation in most of the region.

 

  • M Amweelo is Namibia’s former Minister of Works and Transport and Communication, as well as a marine safety expert. He is currently a guest lecturer at the University of Namibia, Engineering campus, Ongwediva.

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