“Time Bomb Awaiting Africa”

AllAfrica.com. There is no doubt that climate change as an environmental issue has become a burning issue in international circles. According to experts, it has become a development issue that is today confronting humanity with devastating effects; it has become a matter for poverty reduction, food security, economic, health, human rights, and governance.

Climate change and global poverty have attracted attention that both are now serious challenges to the future health and prosperity of mankind that must be confronted by all.

Scientists are of the view that the human race may soon be in danger unless climatic issues are combated effectively.

Climate change presents significant threats to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially those related to eliminating poverty, hunger and promoting environmental sustainability.

Experts have predicted that climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of severe weather events which poor countries lacked the infrastructure necessary to address.

According to them, diseases such as malaria, water-borne sicknesses are likely to have wider ranges, impacting on more people living in the poorest regions of developing nations that are already most affected by such diseases. It was further predicted that changing rainfall patterns would devastate rain-fed agriculture on which most of the population in Africa depends to survive. In Africa, for example, only four per cent of all arable land was said to be irrigated.

Realising the danger posed by climatic change to man’s existence, the international community has held several conferences in recent years to address the issue, which culminated in the Bali, Kyoto and Copenhagen conference on Climatic change among many other mini-summits.

Bali Road Map

The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali hosted by the government of Indonesia, in which over 180 countries represented together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organisations and the media, resulted in the adoption of the Bali Road Map, which consists of a number of decisions that represent the various tracks that are essential to reaching a secure climate future. The Bali Road Map includes the Bali Action Plan, which charts the way forward for a new negotiating process designed to tackle climate change.

EU Negotiating Position

Prior to the Copenhagen Conference, the European Commission on January 28, 2009, released a position paper, ‘Towards a comprehensive climate agreement in Copenhagen’. The position paper “addresses three key challenges: targets and actions; financing of low-carbon development and adaptation; and building an effective global carbon market”.

Leading by example, the European Union (EU) committed itself to implementing binding legislation, even without a satisfactory deal in Copenhagen.

Last December, the EU revised its carbon allowances system called the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) designed for the post-Kyoto period (after 2013).

The Copenhagen Summit

The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly known as the Copenhagen Summit, was held between December 7 and 18.

The document recognised that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of the present day and that actions should be taken to keep any temperature increases below 2°C. The document is not legally-binding and does not contain any legally-binding commitments for reducing carbon emissions

At the end of the Copenhagen conference, delegates approved a motion to “take note” of the Copenhagen Accord.

One part of the agreement pledges $30 billion to the developing world over the next three years, rising to $100 billion per year by 2020, to help poor countries adapt to climate change. Earlier proposals that would have aimed to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C and cut CO2 emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 were dropped.

The much talked about Copenhagen conference has come and gone, but certain things are very clear that Copenhagen and other conferences agreed that our environment is in danger and that there is need to reduce the level of dangerous carbon emission into the atmosphere.

That the agreement reached are not binding on those countries that are producing the highest level of emission, thus leaving the developing nations including Africa at the mercy of discretion rather than binding agreement.

Faced with these realities, the question then arises, how are developing countries like Nigeria responding to the situation in ensuring that measures are put in place which could mitigate the effects of climatic change and the effects of the depletion of the ozone layer on their people? For instance, Nigeria with a total land area of 923,773 kilometres is richly endowed with abundant natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable.

The geographical location of the country as well as the large size allows it to experience nearly all the different types of weather and climate to be found in the West African sub region.

The entire semi-arid zone of Nigeria lies approximately between Latitude 110N and 140N and is always affected by desertification. The country had consistently suffered from recorded drought episodes in the continent.

The situation is being aggravated by increase in human population, which appears to be stressing the natural support system.

In many areas, sustainable-yield threshold of the vegetation and soils are being breached.

Experts have put the rate of desert encroachment into Nigeria at 6km per annum which means that within 10 years most parts of the country would be covered and in 50 years, desert may likely cover most parts of the whole of country.

Despite the danger inherent in the climate change through destructive human activities, African countries like Nigeria has continued to contribute to the destruction of the environment through unrestricted flaring of gas in the process of the exploitation of its crude oil, over-grazing by its livestock with lips service to aforestation, abuse of water resources and other human activities.

The destruction to the environment had been exhibited in the careless manner companies prospecting for oil in the country has handled the issue spillages in the oil-producing areas which has led to the destruction of lands and other ecosystem and indiscriminate ways of disposing effluents by manufacturing companies which pollute our waters and the air.

Other areas in which the global warming, if unchecked, will affect Africa are in the area of floods and ocean surge which will threaten the continent’s coastline. Already, many countries in the world are today facing increasing surge of the sea leading to submerging of many coastal areas. The devastating effect on Africa will be too grave for the continent to contain in view of the fact that Africa lacked the technical capacity to handle such catastrophe.

Other area that global warming will affect the continent is in the area of food production.

The greatest challenges of the continent today are its inability to feed its people. Africa depends on food aides and food importation to feed its population and could hardly survive any natural calamity that could further damage the environment.

Realising the impending danger, the UN on December 20, 2009 held a meeting on climate change and its impact on food production in the continent.

The conference, among others, recommended reforms on rights to land, forests, water, energy and livelihood for their poorest people around the world majority of who are live Africa.

The UN meeting also recommended integrated climate change initiatives into national MDG-based sustainable development plans as part of their contribution to global mitigation and to prioritise renewable energy resources, where possible and the transfer of existing and new technology measures to solve food crisis in Africa.

Although African leaders had in the past seemed to have attempted to make move towards mitigating the effects of climate change on food security in the continent, this could be seen in the conference held in Abuja between December 4 and 7, 2006 tagged ‘Abuja Food Security Summit’. But in reality, such moves have not gone beyond the usual rhetoric and conference jamboree.

The Abuja summit agreed, among others, to adopt an earlier resolution on the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) of the Maputo Summit of July 2003 as a framework for accelerating agriculture development and food security on the continent and the Sirte declaration of 2004 on the challenges of implementing integrated and sustainable development on agriculture and water resources in Africa.

Other resolutions of the Abuja summit are:

-Recalling the Fertiliser Summit held in Abuja in 2006, which called for a Green Revolution in Africa; adhering to the declaration of the 1992 International Conference on Nutrition, which stressed that hunger and malnutrition were unacceptable in the world, and being particularly concerned about the escalating level of malnutrition in Africa;

-Commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and in particular to the goal of halving the proportion of the hungry in our respective countries and the continent by 2015; and the central role that African women play in producing, processing and marketing food and committed to ensuring their full contribution to household food security by guaranteeing their access to productive resources, services and socio-economic opportunities.

However, since the end of the 2006 AU summit on food security and the UN-backed Copenhagen conference on climatic change, African leaders whose people seem to be at the receiving end of global warming due to weak infrastructure and institutional framework seem to have gone to sleep, as nothing concrete seems to have been done.

Issues slated for resolution at the various summits:

-The 2004 Maputo Declaration calls for 10 per cent of total public expenditure to be spent on agriculture and rural development.

-The 2003 CAADP Framework calls for six per cent agricultural growth rates.

-The 2006 Abuja Declaration on Fertilisers calls for an increase in fertiliser use from eight to 50 kilogrammes per hectare by 2015, improvements in access for African exports to global markets, combined with reductions in their own domestic and export subsidies.

However, a true picture of the success or otherwise of African leaders on the issue of food security could be found in the conclusion of the 7th Meeting of the Africa Partnership Forum held in Moscow, Russia between October 26 and 27, 2006.

The Moscow summit in its resolution finds out the following among other issues:

-A mixed picture which has been difficult to ‘score’, particularly in the absence of data and underpinning monitoring systems. It assesses that there has been some progress on CAADP Pillar 4 (research and technology), and partial progress under CAADP Pillar 1(land and water management) in few African countries.

It finds, on balance, little progress to date under the other CAADP pillars. It also finds no evidence of significant progress under the two cross-cutting issues above.

Nonetheless, on the basis of the evidence to date, the report assesses the over all score as “non-performing”.

African Agriculture

The Moscow summit discovered that food production in Africa doubled over the last 20 years and that there are important variations between countries and regions. But overall, between 1993 and 2003, the growth rate of food production (1.5 per cent) was lower than the population growth rate (2.73 per cent) – leading to declining production per capita.

The summit further stated that over this period, Africa’s share of world trade declined for nine out of its 10 major agricultural exports; as less than 10 per cent of potential irrigable land is irrigated, and the use of machinery and inputs such as fertiliser is low (fertiliser use is around four per cent of the level in East Asia; capital stock is similarly very low compared to Asian and Latin American levels);

“Declining productivity has led to a growing dependence on food imports, consuming scarce foreign exchange. It is also having a significant knock-on effect in other areas, including increased child malnutrition and vulnerability to infectious diseases.

The Moscow forum concluded that the lead on these issues rests with African governments.

Scoring the various initiatives as outlined by the African leaders, the Moscow summit scores most of it “red” indicating non-performing.

These are the situation we find ourselves today in Africa. The effects of the global warming is slapping us in the face through fast approaching desertification, ocean surge is gradually taking over our coast line areas with the submerging of many villages, and the greatest and immediate challenge, which is the frequent change in the weather pattern through reduced rainfall on which most of the continent’s agriculture depends.

Even if some countries in the region had officially voted 10 per cent of total public expenditure on agriculture and rural development as envisaged under the 2004 Maputo Declaration, corruption and official bureaucracy has not allowed the set target to be achievable. In most circumstances, the actual percentage spent on agriculture is not more that two per cent of the amount voted for the sector.

Access to fertiliser, arable land and modern farming equipment are becoming increasingly difficult to come by. With dwindling resources allocated to research centres in the continent.

Despite that Africa remains the greatest recipient of the effects of environmental degradation, the continent in its little way has continued to contribute to the problem through policies that did not take the environment into consideration. Many countries in the region have domesticated the Environmental Assessment Impact (EAI) into their books so as to protect the environment, but in actual practice, the EAI policy is not followed in the execution of projects.

It is a known fact that hardly do we have any nation that still flares gas from oil exploration the way Nigeria does with abandoned recklessness, the continued oil spillage with little effort at preventing it, the indiscriminate felling of trees and burning of bushes, all which had adverse effect on the environment.

Banned chemicals, which are injurious to the environment, still find their way into Africa unrestricted.

An unchecked depletion of the ozone layer, according to scientists, will also lead to water shortage. Scientists have said that the world’s supply of fresh water is running out and that already one person out of five has no access to safe drinking water.

Alex Kirby, a BBC News Online environment correspondent, in an article titled ‘Dawn of a thirsty century’ said “the amount of water in the world is limited. The human race, and the other species, which share the planet, cannot expect an infinite supply. Water covers about two-thirds of the earth’s surface, admittedly, but most is too salty for use.

Population is rising, but only 2.5 per cent of the world’s water is not salty, and two-thirds of that is locked up in the icecaps and glaciers.

Of what is left, about 20 per cent is in remote areas, and much of the rest arrives at the wrong time and place, as monsoons and floods.

Humans have available less than 0.08 per cent of all the earth’s water. Yet over the next two decades our use is estimated to increase by about 40 per cent.

Reasons For Water Crisis

In 1999, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported that 200 scientists in 50 countries had identified water shortage as one of the two most worrying problems for the new millennium; the other was global warming.

We use about 70 per cent of the water we have in agriculture. But the World Water Council believes that by 2020 we shall need 17 per cent more water than is available, if we are to feed the world.

The world waters will experience shortage due to continued Pollution and degradation of the environment and growing populations. So if we go on as we are, millions more will go to bed hungry and thirsty each night than do so already.

Today, “one person in five across the world has no access to safe drinking water, and one in two lacks safe sanitation” according to UNEP.

Every day, more than 30,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthdays, killed either by hunger or by easily-preventable diseases associated with unsafe water.

When the water levels of Africa’s huge rivers drop, whole economies suffer. Ghana, for example, has become totally reliant on the hydro-electric output of the Akosombo dam on the river Volta. Mali – one of the poorest countries on the planet – is dependent on the River Niger, which flows from Guinea through Mali to Nigeria, for food, water and transport. But great stretches of the river are now facing environmental catastrophe as a result of pollution. In Nigeria, half the population has no access to clean water, and as in much of Africa, many women walk for hours a day to fetch it.

A UN’s report predicts that access to water may be the single biggest cause of conflict and war in Africa in the next 25 years. Such wars are most likely to be in countries where rivers or lakes are shared by more than one country. There is already fierce national competition over water for irrigation and power generation – most notably in the Nile river basin. Cairo warned in 1991 that it was ready to use force to protect its access to waters of the Nile, which also runs through Ethiopia and Sudan. If the populations of these countries continue to rise, competition for the water could be fierce.

The Zambezi river basin in southern Africa is one of the most over-used river systems in the world. Although the countries through which the river flows usually vie with each other to harness the water power, at other times they are deluged by floods and heavy rain. The region experienced the worst floods in living memory in March 2000, exacerbated by Zimbabwe opening the Kariba dam gates.

The Ministry of Water Resources recently said it needed some $7.6 billion to harness the country’s rivers and aquifers.

Water problem has, of late, become of great concern to many African countries. At a recent conference attended by 1,000 delegates in Addis Ababa, water experts said Africa was facing a water crisis affecting 300 million people.

A recent WHO/UNICEF report reveals that more than 2.6 billion people in the world do not have basic sanitation, and more than one billion people still use unsafe drinking water.

According to ECA Policy Research Report, Africa is one of the world’s driest continents. The diminishing availability of usable water in the face of rising demand creates the potential for disputes and conflicts over water resources, both within and between countries.

Moreover, the uneven distribution of water resources – the result of erratic rainfall and varying climate – has stratified the continent into areas of abundant water resources and areas of extreme water scarcity and stress.

Central Africa and parts of East and West Africa have abundant water resources, while North Africa, the Sudano-Sahelian region, and Southern Africa suffer chronic shortages, with very erratic rainfall.

Recurring cycles of long droughts, sometimes followed by floods, accentuate water scarcity and imbalances across the continent. Water originates outside the borders of many countries – such as Egypt (almost the entire flow), Mauritania (95 per cent), Botswana (94 per cent), and the Gambia (86 per cent) – and most of Africa’s water resources cross borders.

Recognising this potential, and to promote regional cooperation, African countries began making trans-boundary river agreements in the 1960s.

But these cooperation efforts focused on the joint development and use of trans-boundary river and lake basins as sources of freshwater all these efforts neglected the importance of the environment on water and not efforts at dealing with the catastrophe that will emanate from the impacts of environmental damages.

Climate change will probably bring more rain to some regions and less to others, and its overall impact remains uncertain, but if we are to get through the water crisis, we should heed the UNEP report’s reminder that we have only one inter-dependent planet to share.

Africa, as it stands today, rarely had any policy aimed at protecting the environment. The indiscriminate felling of trees, bush burning, use of banned and dangerous chemicals that are injurious to our forest are the lots of many African nations. Even where laws are put in place to protect the environment, such laws were never adhered to.

It is obvious that if steps are not taken to curb the increasing damage to the environment, Africa will definitely pay a bigger price for it, through starvation, diseases, floods, and serious adverse weather conditions. These are the realities that the continent faces today. It is a time bomb awaiting the continent with devastating consequences unless something concrete and timely is done to redress the continued damage to the environment.

Africa, rather than taking the back seat on environmental issues, should take the driver’s seat as the continent would be hardest hit by the impact of damage to the environment.

This article initially published on the Nigerian newspaper Daily Independent was written by Gbenga Ogunbufunmi.

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