Saving the Planet

Africa: When a vulnerable continent meets a climate crisis

climate - climateaction
credit: pep-net.org

Climate-induced disasters like flooding, extreme droughts, heatwaves, and storms, are springing up every now and then in a number of communities across Africa – a continent already setback by its low adaptive capacity and plagued with political instability, economic insecurity, civil wars, corruption, and terrorist insurrections.

Africa is already disadvantaged by a number of factors that inhibit its capacity to adapt to climate change and this has influenced how climate change affects it.

For one, the climate crisis is causing people, especially the poor, to settle and live in low-lying areas adjacent to rivers in and around urban areas.

As these people crowd cities, they build homes and compact the ground, altering the ways in which rainfall collects and flows towards streams and rivers.

When floods begin to occur with greater frequency as a result of climate change, roads and drainages are unable to adjust to the changes in the frequency of heavy rain (like streams ordinarily would) because they have either been obstructed by debris or by the housing structures that have been built on them.

As it begins to flood, agencies and local authorities prioritize towns and cities when taking flood-preventive measures, leaving areas most occupied by the poorest communities, who migrated to escape the harsh climate-induced conditions, to deal with the floods.

This depicts how climate disasters are heightened by poor urban planning and uninformed risk processes — inadequate infrastructure, lack of social support systems aimed at reducing impacts of disasters, ignoring factors that cause vulnerable groups to live in hazardous areas, and failing to help affected communities with recovery.

Also, Africa’s high poverty rate and economic/financial restraints disproportionately expose it to the impacts of climate change. The continent has generally been known as a place where poverty thrives and its people live below the average income.

In fact, according to a report by the World Bank, 90% of the world’s total poor population will be located in Africa.

As the climate situation worsens, the living conditions of these people deteriorate along with it (especially during drought and flood periods) because agriculture in the continent is heavily reliant on rainfall.

In Africa, droughts alone impact about 55 million people yearly, destroying crops and livestock. The damage is mostly felt in the agriculture industry — a primary source of food and income for many people in the continent. As situations worsen, families are forced to leave their homes and migrate to other areas.

Climate-related disasters are fueled by the vulnerability of these communities, often man-made. Acknowledging the role of human activity in disasters will allow for a proactive, equitable, and successful approach to reducing the impacts of disasters.

When we only attribute disasters to climate change without highlighting the human failure of being proactive, we deflect responsibility and enable a one-sided crisis narrative that is used by governments to justify reactive disaster laws and policies which further exacerbate the impacts of these disasters rather than prevent or mitigate them.

Africa can significantly reduce disaster impacts. It just needs to acknowledge that it is vulnerable in key aspects and that these vulnerabilities affect the disaster magnitudes of affected communities.

This re-orientation is a crucial starting point to identify and take advantage of the situation to proffer and execute enabling solutions that can and will transform African societies to be more equitable and resilient in the nearest future.

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