According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), Southern Africa’s temperatures are rising at twice the global average rate. While it is mainly industrial nations that are responsible for producing greenhouse gases, such as CO2, that contribute to climate change, the main victims of climate change are already suffering, in the countries of the Global South. Many countries in Africa have already been suffering droughts, floods, uncertain weather patterns, loss of biodiversity and soils, increased prevalence and strength of diseases, among other disasters such as cyclones.

Africa is exceedingly vulnerable to these changes, not only because of its dependence on agriculture but also because many communities lack the capacity to respond or adapt to climate change impacts. Climate extremes and weather events severely erode the resilience and adaptive capacity of individuals and communities via declining yields and food security, which can lead to migration from rural areas to towns. Climate change is a threat to the economic growth, long-term prosperity, and livelihoods of an already vulnerable population.

Peter Johnston, a climate scientist at UCT, has said that while it is impossible to look at individual weather events and attribute them to climate change, a pattern is emerging. Food security is one of the biggest concerns for the future, particularly as many governments cannot afford to import enough
to feed the population when local crops fail. When this happens maize prices rise, which forms a staple part of many people’s diets, affecting mostly poor households that spend relatively large portions of their income on food – as much as 34%.

Drought has become more commonplace in South Africa in recent years. In 2017, approximately 20,000 jobs were lost from the agricultural sector in the Western Cape province, many associated with the severe drought. Most farm workers are unlikely to get jobs elsewhere, resulting in increased poverty.

Drought has also hit the rest of the region. Many of the game reserves have seen scorched grazing land and watering holes dry out. Botswana, home to almost a third of Africa’s elephants, saw more than 100 of the creatures die in two months last year.

2.3 million people in rural Zimbabwe were in ‘crisis emergency mode’ last year, undergoing its third year of drought. People are leaving the land as they cannot grow their main crop of maize: the overall harvest dropped by 50 per cent in 2019 when compared to 2018. In a desperate effort to find alternative means of livelihood, some women and children are resorting to coping mechanisms that violate their most fundamental human rights and freedoms. As a result, school drop-outs, early marriage, domestic violence, prostitution and sexual exploitation are on the rise throughout Zimbabwe. Because of hyperinflation, which has reached 490%, more than 60% of the population – that’s 7.7m people – are now ‘food-insecure’, in a country once seen as the breadbasket of Africa.

In Malawi 99% of the population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture, 60% of whom are food insecure on a year-round-basis. It has among the highest proportion of the population entering poverty in the wake of extreme events.

Poor harvests are not the only worry. Bad planning, uncontrolled development, drainage problems and insufficient infrastructure make African cities vulnerable to flooding and extreme temperatures too.

While politicians around the world sit on their hands, people in Africa are dying.


Jayne Forbes is an academic at University of the Arts London

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