How bad is it?
It is one of the worst droughts in years and the number of people affected is monstrous. Zimbabwe recently declared a state of disaster and it might only be a matter of time before other states do the same. Reuters reports that World Food Programme estimates 49 million will be affected by the drought in Southern Africa. 9 million of that number are the urban poor while the rest will be the rural populace. The drought generally struck the whole Southern tip of the African continent with South Africa’s maize belt being hit just as severely and Malawi experiencing its first maize deficit in a decade. The drought has been said to mainly be a result of the natural El Nino which brings drier conditions to Southern Africa and generally wetter ones to East Africa. Ethiopia however joins the aggrieved countries’ club having been hit by its worst drought in 30 years. Save the Children says the Ethiopian drought is as big a threat to children’s lives as the war in Syria.
What caused it: Natural phenomenon or Global Warming?
The Southern African drought has been attributed to the El Nino phenomenon which refers to the surface warming of the eastern and central Pacific Basin. Richard Angwin of Al Jazeera said, “It is certainly the strongest since the last major El Nino of 1997-98, and it stands every chance of being the strongest since at least 1950.”
The question on everyone’s mind is if this is all there is to the drought or global warming has had an effect. Though the El Nino effect is largely to blame, the immense cumulative contribution of global warming is not to be discounted. Research has proved that climate change is causing more frequent El Nino occurrences.
The current drought has proved the fact that Africa is vulnerable to climate shifts more than other regions. One of the reasons is that it straddles the equator and has arid and semi-arid regions on either sides. These regions are already hot and drier as it is and any increase in temperature has the drastic effect of turning them into deserts. An El Nino usually adds 0.1 to 0.2C but temperatures coming into 2016 have been 1.0C above the long term average. The El Nino contribution is therefore negligible in this regard. The problem is not just the El Nino, it is a compounded El Nino and global warming concoction. Global warming as already known has mainly been caused by industrial emissions. Cities like Beijing are major culprits in this regard with its atrocious pollution levels. Africa is feeling the brunt of the fire other continents started.
What should be done going forward?
The best plan moving is for Africa to be a little more vocal about global warming and the harmful tendencies of the first world. Africa is the lightest polluter yet it suffers the worst effects of global warming. Interestingly, when 2,000 researchers met in Paris in 2015, only 10% were from Africa. Edith Ofwona-Adera, a senior program specialist at Canada’s International Development Research Center at the scientific conference in Paris said, “Africa is the most affected continent and the least capacity in global climate change. If we are to find common solutions then you need the voices of those who are affected and those who are highly affected.”
Africa should be seen to increasingly engage in the conversations surrounding climate change and to lead the way in implementing given solutions. The continent should be seen to be leading the drive for clean energy especially using solar. Uganda’s solar powered bus is a step in the right direction. This is however a solution to global warming; the El Nino cannot be solved. It is a natural phenomenon which should not be blamed on anyone.
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