Deepening Crisis in the Dark Continent

-Nadashree M.K.

We have been calculating the impact of climate change for decades. In Africa, especially the Sub-Saharan and Sahel region are under the great threats posed by climate change. This is further fuelled by political instability, terrorism and ethnic conflicts. Being a diverse and unique continent with vast and unexplored resources, humanitarian crises and climate change are extremely affecting the lives of Africa.

The Cost of Climate Change

Studies show that the impact of climate change varies from region to region. The Sub-Saharan region that lies in the south of the African continent is one of the most vulnerable regions to the increasing threats of climate change. Already affected by poverty and water shortage, rising temperature and sea levels, changes in rainfall pattern and other extreme weather conditions hamper the socio-economic development in the continent. Unavailability of clean water resources and acute food shortage due to climate change makes it difficult for the increasing population in Sub-Saharan Africa. Low crop productivity is unable to meet the needs of the people. The absence of innovation and technological progress in agriculture fail to bring any improvements to help the population. Lack of proper irrigation projects also impacts agriculture. Besides these challenges, climate change as well results in the well-being of the people. 

Similarly, in the Sahel region, a semi-arid region extending from Senegal in the west to Sudan in the east of Africa, the impact of climate change is extreme. The Sahel is facing acute drought and intense floods dramatically affecting livelihood. It is found that atmospheric temperature is rising at 1.5-degree Celsius faster than compared to the rest of the world, which intensifies drought. However, the region also faces heavy rainfall along with fierce thunderstorms. Being a dry area, excessive water is unable to absorb into the soil. Mali and Niger witnessed destructive rainfall and floods in 2019.

A flood prone village in Mali

Around two-thirds of the Sahel’s population depend on agriculture and livestock. Though the region gets excessive water, the absence of proper rain-fed irrigation adversely affects crop yield which eventually leads to poverty. As predicted by IPCC, the agricultural yield will fall by 20% by the end of the century in some areas of Sahel. According to the UN, the population in six Sahel countries is increasing six times. Already affected by political turmoil and conflicts, the countries in the Sahel are trapped in the vicious circle of poverty, malnutrition, damaging the infrastructure and resources of the countries.  

Interlinked Challenges

Unlike the civil war and humanitarian crisis in West Asia, the disturbing events in Africa are unfamiliar to many. According to UNHCR, Sub-Saharan Africa hosts 26% of the world’s total refugee population. That is more than 18 million people. The number of refugees has increased in recent years due to political instability and climate change in countries such as the Central African Republic (CAR), Nigeria and South Sudan. In 2018, the region experienced more internal displacement than any other region in the world. Over 7.8 million were displaced due to the new wave of conflicts- which is three times more than compared to the Middle East and North Africa. Besides the impacts of climate change, unending conflicts triggered a large number of refugees and made people unable to access basic necessities such as food, water and medicines.

A flood prone village in Mali

In a report published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 2.6 million new displacements of the region are related to climate change. Millions of people are forced to flee their homes each year. The ongoing unrest in Ethiopia triggered 2.8 million displacements in 2018, more than any other place in the world. The same year, a high number of displacements was recorded in Somalia due to regional conflicts. Ethnic clashes, terrorism and socio-economic challenges set off similar displacement in the Middle Belt region of Nigeria, the Anglophone region of Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Climate disasters, large-scale development projects and conflicts drastically increase the number of displaced each year.

A recent report of UNOCHA, published in April 2021 revealed that a new record number of 29 million Sahelians in six countries are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance- five million more people than last year. The number of violent attacks increased dramatically in the Central Sahel and the Lake Chad basin, threatening the lives of millions of children in the region. Around 5,000 schools are closed or non-operational and 1.6 million children suffer from acute malnutrition. Extreme climate conditions are accelerated by ever-growing deadly attacks on civilians. The area for humanitarian shelters is reduced due to ongoing violence. The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic further soared the current state. Surging food prices force people to live in hunger and malnutrition. Women and children are the most vulnerable group in the present crisis. The absence of shelter exposes them to abuse, abduction and forced marriage. Day by day the worsening condition of the region threatens millions of lives and the ecosystem. 

Way Forward

The increasing number of refugees in the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa shows us that the impact of climate change is beyond what we see or imagine. Fed by political unrest, displaced people from both urban and rural areas are fleeing in search of a safe haven for their future. Though the world has been extending helping hands in restoring peace in the regions, it seems to be ineffective. While the leaders agree on attaining targets in set dates in saving the planet, this unparalleled situation should get world attention and action immediately. Moreover, the OCHA indicated a shortage in international funding for the effective delivery of humanitarian aid. Lack of representation for the continent is also another point to be noted. While there are tools and equipment to measure the impact of climate change and other risks, it should be the combined effort of local and national governments along with international and local organisations to combat present and future challenges in the regions. 

Dry season in Burkina Faso of the Sahel region

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