Changing climate already impacting life in the Sahel

Posted on 08 December 2011 by admin

By Happy Ntsanwisi – Nthavela Newspaper*

DURBAN, Dec 6 – (TerraViva) A just-published study of trends in temperature, rainfall, droughts and flooding in the Sahel region of West Africa over the past 40 years provides further evidence of the threat posed by climate.

New evidence of a changing climate in the Sahel – a semi-arid savannah that stretches across West Africa from Senegal in the west to Chad in the east – has major implications for food security and regional stability.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, the Sahel suffered devastating droughts and famine that killed thousands people and forced hundreds of thousands to migrate elsewhere,” says researcher Jakob Rhyner from the United Nations University.

The report, titled “Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel”, was released at the U.N. climate conference in Durban, and adds to the pressure to reach a new international agreement to limit global warming as well as adapt to the changes that it is already too late to prevent.

The research is a joint effort by the U.N. Environment Programme, the U.N. office of the Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs, U.N. University, the International Organization for Migration, and the permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel, with technical input from the University of Salzburg’s Centre for Geoinformatics.

The study looked at regional trends in temperature, rainfall, droughts and flooding over the past 40 years and their implications for the availability of natural resources, sustainability of livelihoods, and increased migration and conflicts in 17 West African countries

The trends show significant changes in climatic conditions between 1970 and 2006, including an overall rise in temperature of approximately one degree, with the far eastern parts of Chad and the northern parts of Mali and Mauritania warming by between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius.

The report identified 19 “climate hotspots” where changes have been the most severe, including sites far inland in Niger and Chad and coastal regions of Togo and Benin.

Darfuri refugee, Eastern Chad.

Dwindling resources make tasks like finding firewood a challenge. Credit: Ann Holmes/IPS

The report’s authors say the consequences can be seen in the loss of livestock and crops due to drought leading to not only higher food prices, but migration of farmers to find new opportunities. The changes have also increased conflict linked to competition for water and land among fishermen and farmers.

In their recommendations, the researchers said it would be important to follow-up by monitoring livelihoods throughout the region: keeping a close watch on changes in the availability of resources and any linked migration and conflict. Systematic data collection and early warning mechanisms will also be important.

Researchers urge investing in renewable energy sources to create jobs and income for farmers and herders, such as building and maintaining solar installations.

They called for support for smallholder farmers, including tips for farming in the new conditions and assistance to expand production of valuable organic cash crops for export. It may also be essential to introduce new crops that can withstand harsh climates.

Speaking to TerraViva separately, Nick Nuttal, from the United Nations Environment Programme, agreed. “Across the world, it is important that the right kind of crops are planted.”

Alongside support for agriculture, the researchers urge investing in renewable energy sources to create jobs and income for farmers and herders, building and maintaining solar installations for instance, to supplement their income.

They also warned that programmes must take care not to reinforce existing gender or ethnic inequalities, but should involve local participation and perspectives to reach the most vulnerable.

* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.

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