Climate change, arguably, is the most significant contemporary challenge for Sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change, as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is the considerable variations in climate that persist for an extended period, typically decades or longer. It includes shifts in the patterns of weather events and the continuous rise in global mean surface temperature.

Sub-Saharan Africa is disproportionately affected by Climate change. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change-Fifth Assessment Report, the average temperature of Sub-Saharan Africa has already warmed by more than 1 °C since 1900, with increased heatwaves and hot days. The year 2019 was among the three warmest years on record for the continent, and this trend is expected to continue. 

Rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and an increased frequency of extreme weather events threaten the water security of the region. Glaciers and snow cover that are the major reservoir of fresh water are declining at a faster rate in the ongoing century when compared with the previous century records thus, disturbing water availability in areas that receive melt water from major mountain ranges, where more than 17 per cent of the world’s population currently live. According to United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), only 11 of the 18 glaciers covering Mount Kenya’s summit a century ago remain, leaving less than one-third of the previous ice cover. The ice on Mount Kenya has also become thinner. All these effects are attributable to global warming. 

The Sub-Saharan region is already relatively dry.  Climate Change is worsening the situation by pushing the region towards critical water stress. It is an irony that 19 African countries top the UN list of 25 countries from across the globe with the least access to safe water. As per UNEP, nearly 1,100 million people lack access to clean drinking water, while poor water quality is the cause of 5 million deaths every year in sub-Saharan Africa.

It must be noted that the issue of water unavailability does not exist in isolation. The prevailing drought situation further translates into crop loss, which can cause starvation if alternative food sources are not available. Indirectly, water shortages contribute to the spread of disease, because people lack water for basic hygiene.

The drying of river beds due to evaporation has led to the saltwater intrusion in the freshwater resource channels like rivers and lakes, and the coastal communities are increasingly becoming short of freshwater availability. Not only this, but also the hydro-meteorological disasters such as floods and droughts have significant effects on food supplies, health, economic and environmental losses, and social upheaval. This means that climate change impacts are complex and far-reaching. But, the vulnerability of Sub Saharan Africa from climate change effects is exacerbated due to its geographical location, low incomes, low technological and institutional capacity to adapt to rapid changes in the environment, and greater reliance on climate-sensitive sectors such as water and agriculture. The susceptibility of African countries to climate change is further enhanced due to the desertification process, declining run-off from water catchments, reducing soil fertility, dependency on subsistence agriculture, vector-borne diseases, and rapid population growth.

Contrary to the vulnerability of this region to climate change impacts, the sub Saharan countries’ contributions to greenhouse gas emissions are insignificant. The UN reports show that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa generates only 1.6 percent of the global greenhouse gas emission. The African States are the regions facing the most significant capacity gaps about climate services. (1) The hour’s need is to take climate action as per the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since 2015, the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement have become the main instrument for guiding policy responses to climate change. Fifty-two (52) African countries have submitted their NDCs to the UN platform. Clean energy and agriculture are prioritized in over 70% of African NDCs. These ambitions should become an integral part of the economic development priorities of the continent in order to protect the region from facing further adverse impacts of Climate Change.

(1)A Climate Service is the provision of climate information to assist decision-making. The service must respond to user needs, must be based on scientifically credible information and expertise, and requires appropriate engagement between the users and providers.


Author : Irfan Ali