SADC’s hungry millions: what is in store at climate change meeting?

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By Mpho Tebele

Gaborone - At least 27 million people in Southern Africa, who were hoping to benefit from the multi-billion-dollar appeal launched by SADC in 2016 to assist them in coping with the El Niño-induced drought, have been left in the lurch as they are still vulnerable.

This was revealed at a high-level meeting held in Botswana in preparation for the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled for Katowice, Poland, early December, to finalise the rules of the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

In 2016, the Southern African Development Community declared a regional disaster and launched an appeal amounting to US$2.4 billion to the international community to support the humanitarian needs of and disaster response recovery of millions of people affected by the El Niño-induced drought in the region.

It is not clear if the international community responded positively to the appeal by former President of Botswana and former SADC chairperson, Ian Khama, who launched the appeal at the time, but this week it was revealed that 27 million people in the region are still facing hunger due climate change.

Botswana’s Permanent Secretary in Botswana’s Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism Ministry, Thato Raphaka, said the number of food insecure population is at 27 million in the SADC region alone because the regional bloc suffered the worst drought in 35 years caused by the El Niño phenomenon.

“The devastating negative impacts of climate change continue to weigh heavily on the vulnerable communities,” said Raphaka, adding that strategic interventions targeted towards sustainable production and consumption to keep the planet at a safer level and help realise the Paris Agreement should be a matter of priority to all.

He said like other countries in the region, Botswana has not been spared by the effects of climate change. “With an estimated 500,000 livestock deaths, and over 30,000 people (4% of the population) left vulnerable to the impacts of the drought,” he said.

Raphaka said strategic interventions targeted towards sustainable production and consumption to keep the planet at a safer level and help realise the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and the Paris Agreement, “should be a matter of priority to all of us”.

The meeting of world leaders is expected to come up with solutions to the factors that are responsible for climate change which exacerbates El Niño induced drought.

But, according to Reuters, divisions within Europe and tension between the United States and China pose major challenges to the next round of United Nations talks on climate change.

Other political leaders are also sceptical about the positive outcome of the meeting. The president of the talks, Poland’s former deputy energy minister Micha Kurtyka, has expressed hope of a compromise while at the same time acknowledging the scope of the task ahead. Scientists and the world leaders are battling it out, balancing national interests with a goal to reach a deal that will limit global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius. Most countries in southern Africa have been experiencing severe climate change effects, including successive droughts and floods.

Reports indicate that the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement makes provisions for limiting global temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels this century while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius through transparent and ambitious emission reductions.

Raphaka said the fundamental point to note is that this is not a matter for governments alone.

“It is imperative that we all play a role in ensuring that we fulfill our commitments under and beyond the Paris Agreement, and most importantly raise Nationally Determined Contributions ambition to achieve the long-term temperature goal and collective quantified finance for adaptation,” said Raphaka.

Reports further indicate that in the last ten decades, climate change has led to about 2.5 trillion dollars in disaster losses in developing countries.

This had resulted in the number of people affected by natural disasters doubling from 102 million in 2015 to 204 million in 2017 across the world.

According to the “State of Food and Nutrition Insecurity and Vulnerability in Southern Africa” report, the SADC region is off-track in reducing childhood stunting by 40% which is the World Health Assembly target by 2025.

It states that the proportion of stunted children is increasing in Angola, Botswana, DRC, Madagascar, Mozambique, Seychelles and South Africa. 

The DRC, Madagascar, Mozambique, and Zambia have a high prevalence of stunting above 40%. Stunted children are more likely to fall ill and develop poor cognitive skills and learning. Their labour productivity, employment potential, and socialisation are also affected later in life.

The first half of the 2017/18 agricultural season was affected by an extended dry spell from late December 2017 to late January 2018 in central parts of the region, causing a significant negative impact on early-planted crops.

Although the improved rainfall experienced between February and March 2018 aided crop recovery in some areas, permanent wilting occurred in others. 

Reports also show that Southern Africa is expected to receive erratic rainfall in the 2018/19 agricultural season, according to the latest outlook produced by regional climate experts, who have predicted that seasonal rainfall will be "normal to below-normal" across most of the region.

Most of the 16 Southern African Development Community countries are likely to receive “normal to below-normal” rainfall in the period from October 2018 to March 2019. 

Southern Africa is prone to climate change and variability, which adversely affects the food security and livelihood of the population.

Between 2014 and 2016, the region suffered the worst drought in 35 years, caused by the El Niño phenomenon. Climate change continues to manifest as prolonged drought, floods, and cyclones.

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