Climate Change Already Ravaging Africa

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The continent accounts for just four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but suffers the most from its effects.

By Boris Bachorz
Agence Presse France, November 21, 2009

NAIROBI – From prolonged droughts to melting ice caps to heavy flooding and unpredictable weather patterns, climate change effects are already wrecking lives in Africa, the continent that pollutes the least.

Around 23 million people currently face starvation across east Africa as successive failed rainy seasons have decimated crops, livestock and devastated livelihoods.

Residents of Turkana, a region of northern Kenya withered by severe drought, recently found respite when an NGO bought off their emaciated livestock and slaughtered them to feed the starving.

“It’s the worst drought since 1969, the year when the dromedaries died,” recalled Esta Ekouam, a grandmother who has no idea how old she is.

Across the border in Ethiopia, poor harvests have left millions at the mercy of relief aid.

“The weather has changed, it’s not as it used to be before,” lamented Tuke Shika, a farmer in southern Ethiopia. “The rains are increasingly erratic and we are getting less and less yields.”

Experts say the east African drought is the worst in decades.

The continent accounts for just four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but suffers the most from its effects.

African countries want rich nations responsible for much of the emissions to make huge cuts and have demanded billions of dollars to cope with the effects of climate change.

To limit warming to around two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), rich nations must cut emissions by between 25 and 40 percent by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says.

But Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who heads an African Union panel to represent the continent in next month’s climate change talks, said there were little signs the Copenhagen meeting will yield firm decisions.

“Are we really in that sense unwilling and unable to form a financial climate change partnership with developed countries that will protect citizens here in Kenya, or wherever they may live in the developing world from the consequence of something they don’t have responsibility for?” UN Environment Programme chief Achim Steiner said.

“It’s an extraordinary moral and ethical dilemma that we are now confronted with,” he told AFP in an interview.

A recent US study revealed that snow caps on Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak, are rapidly melting and could vanish completely in 20 years mainly due to climate change.

Perhaps in the first case of its kind, climate change has been blamed for altering the border between Uganda and the DR Congo marked by a river which has changed course over the years.

The River Semliki has changed course several times since 1960 as rising water volumes sparked by melting ice caps on the Rwenzori mountain cause meandering and alteration of the boundary, Ugandan scientists said.

Rising sea temperatures have also disrupted the annual sardine migration off South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal coast and four out of the past eight years have seen smaller numbers of sardines, researchers said.

“The temperature along the KwaZulu-Natal coast is rising to just above what sardines can tolerate,” said Sean O’Donoghue, a researcher at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“We are really at the limit. If the temperature gets warmer with global warming… sardines are unlikely to come as far up the coast,” he said.

Southern Africa has this year also witnessed some heavy flooding, with the worst floods since 1972 killing at least 102 people in Namibia. More than 60 also died in Angola.

Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga called for sober negotiations during the December 7-18 climate change meeting.

“We really should not go to Copenhagen and play the hard ball and the blame game,” he told AFP.

“This issue is so crucial that it requires full cooperation because if the North does not cooperate with the South it means all of us are going to be victims. All of us are going to be losers.”