Droughts in East Africa: A Reminder on the Devastating Effects of Climate Change in Africa

13/07/2011
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The recent drought in East Africa, which is already directly affecting 10 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, serves to remind us of a pressing reality in the region: Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change.

That is why this issue has become a priority for the continent's development because it threatens to eliminate the significant socio-economic gains made by African countries over a decade. More than ever, climate change must be managed simultaneously, with strategies and programs that can both mitigate the effects of this phenomenon, but also to adapt and even to earn benefits.

Challenges for Africa in Climate Change

Two-thirds of Africa is arid or semi-arid.  One of the consequences is the growth in the number and intensity of droughts and floods. As to water, the continent has only 9% of global water resources.

In addition, this resource is poorly distributed and the capacity retention of water through dams is largely under-developed.  It is 200 cubic meters / person / year in Africa compared to 5961 cubic m / person / year in North America. Experts believe there will be a crisis over access to water in Africa by 2020, particularly in North Africa.

As regards agriculture, the dangers of climate change are particularly high in Africa. The agricultural sector contributes 30 percent of Africa’s GDP and employs 70 percent of the workforce. Since only five percent of the land is irrigated, the sector will suffer severely reduced productivity if adaptation measures are not implemented quickly.

As for the issue of energy, even though the continent is well endowed with resources, the level of access to energy remains very low.  More than 75 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa has no access to electricity. And when it is available, its reliability and cost are problems. Most African businesses emphasize that access to reliable, competitively-priced energy is the number one factor that could help them to grow.

More generally, climate change, with its potential for population migration and increased likelihood of disease transmission, will affect the poorest populations, worsening their already grave situation.

More than ever, therefore, Africa must seize this challenge to the body and take the road to pro-climate development.

How do we get there?

As funds are set up to respond to climate change, they can create new ways for development on the continent -  in the management of natural resources, renewable energy, and in energy efficiency. This is particularly the case with energy.  The continent can produce all forms of renewable energy.  It has hydro-power potential (for example, the site of Inga in DRC), wind power, biomass resources, and solar power potential.

So for Africa, now more than ever before, it is time to develop the huge potential of renewable energy, with low greenhouse gas emissions. Accordingly, the African Development Bank (AfDB) proposes a new strategy in the energy sector, focusing on expanding access and encouraging massive investment in clean energy. The development of renewable energy could be the central pillar for the accelerated development of the continent, allowing the creation of small and medium-sized enterprises, expansion of the agricultural sector, improved competitiveness, innovation, and job creation. The technologies in this area are easier to develop, more reliable and less expensive than in the past.

A Green Fund for Africa

With growth resting on a low-carbon and clean energy, Africa would generate more than ever the interest and participation of donors and private investors.

To this end, the AfDB proposes the creation of a special fund, the Green Fund for Africa, as a funding mechanism to address the needs of low-carbon growth on the continent, including the development of its clean energy potential.

The fund would be financed mainly by the resources allocated to Africa within the international funding framework that is already in place. Setting up this fund in Africa could only strengthen the ownership and use of their resources by African countries, and their greater participation in decision-making regarding the effective use of funds.

By having such a financial tool, the continent could take a more independent path to green growth and make a solid contribution to solving one of the most important issues of our time.