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As Africa’s glaciers melt, millions face drought and floods, UN says

As Africa’s glaciers melt, millions face drought and floods, UN says

Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, Rwenzoris snow caps gone by 2040s

118 million poor face floods, drought, extreme heat

Climate change to shave 3% off Africa’s GDP by 2050

Africa’s fabled eastern glaciers will vanish in two decades, 118 million poor people face drought, floods or extreme heat, and climate change could shrink the continent’s economy by 3% by mid-century, the U.N. climate agency warned on Tuesday.

The latest report on the state of Africa’s climate by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and African Union agencies paints a dire picture of the continent’s ability to adapt to increasingly frequent weather disasters.

The report says last year was Africa’s third warmest on record, according to one set of data, 0.86 degrees Celsius above the average in the three decades leading to 2010. It has mostly warmed slower than high-latitude temperate zones, but the impact is still devastating.

“The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of … irreversible change to the Earth system,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a foreword to the report.

The report came as African countries demanded a new system to track funding from wealthy nations that are failing to meet a $100-billion annual target to help the developing world tackle climate change. read more

The demand by Africa’s top climate negotiator Tanguy Gahouma, ahead of the COP26 climate summit, highlights tensions between the world’s 20 largest economies that produce more than three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions, and developing countries that are bearing the brunt of global warming.

A vehicle drives past Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania’s Hie district, file. REUTERS/Katrina Manson


The report forecast that at current rates all three of Africa’s tropical ice fields – Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, Kenya’s Mount Kenya, and Uganda’s Rwenzoris, which are often identified as the location of the legendary Mountains of the Moon – would be gone by the 2040s.

In addition, “By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people (living on less than $1.90 per day) will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat … if adequate response measures are not put in place,” African Union Agriculture Commissioner Josefa Sacko said.

Africa, which accounts for less than 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, has long been expected to be severely impacted by climate change. Its croplands are already drought-prone, many of its major cities hug the coast, and widespread poverty makes it harder for people to adapt.

Apart from worsening drought on a continent heavily reliant on agriculture, there was extensive flooding in East and West Africa in 2020, the report noted, while a locust infestation of historic proportions, which began a year earlier, continued to wreak havoc.

The report estimated that sub-Saharan Africa would need to spend $30-$50 billion, or 2-3% of GDP, each year on adaptation to avert even worse consequences.

An estimated 1.2 million people were displaced by storms and floods in 2020, nearly two and half times as many people as fled their homes because of conflict in the same year.


Tim Cocks via Reuters

What is the Indian Ocean Dipole?

What is the Indian Ocean Dipole?

Global heating is “supercharging” an increasingly dangerous climate mechanism in the Indian Ocean that has played a role in disasters this year including bushfires in Australia and floods in Africa.

Scientists and humanitarian officials say this year’s record Indian Ocean dipole, as the phenomenon is known, threatens to reappear more regularly and in a more extreme form as sea surface temperatures rise.

Picture credit: BBC

The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that was first described in 1999 after Japanese and US researchers observed interesting things occurring in the Indian Ocean atmosphere and ocean during 1998. Research that ensued showed that the IOD is probably equally important as the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) as a climate driver for SE Australia.

Measurements of ocean temperatures go back with some reliability to 1877 to classify IOD events. Cores of large brain corals (used to characterise ocean behaviour), sampled off Indonesia give the ability to go back even further to about 400 years.

Caroline Ummenhofer, a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts who has been a key figure in efforts to understand the importance of the dipole, said unique factors were at play in the Indian Ocean compared with other tropical regions.

While ocean currents and winds in the Atlantic and Pacific can disperse heating water, the large Asian landmass to the north of the Indian Ocean makes it particularly susceptible to retaining heat. “It’s quite different to the tropical Atlantic and tropical Pacific events. There you have you have steady easterly trade winds. In the Indian Ocean that’s not the case,” Ummenhofer said.

Heavy downpours have devastated parts of East Africa over the last two months, with the Horn of Africa seeing up to 300% above average rainfall between October and mid-November, according to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia and South Sudan have been particularly badly affected, with flash floods and landslides hitting communities across the region.

Picture credit: Al Jazeera

Almost 300 people have reportedly died and 2.8 million people have been affected, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network has warned of further flooding in Kenya and the Lake Victoria basin as well as areas of Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Kenya’s Met Department said the heavy rain could continue into the New Year.

Picture credit: D.Lewins / Picture Alliance

Meanwhile in Australia, record-breaking spring temperatures have helped spark and fan a series of bushfires across the country. About 100 bushfires are raging in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), with the most severe forming into a “mega blaze” north of Sydney.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has warned communities to prepare for more severe fire danger, with a high chance of warmer than usual days and nights for much of the country throughout summer.

Picture credit: R. Rycroft / Picture Alliance

Extreme climate and weather events caused by the dipole are predicted to become more common in the future as greenhouse gas emissions increase. In a 2014 study published in Nature, scientists in Australia, India, China and Japan modelled the effects of CO2 on extreme Indian Ocean dipoles, such as those in 1961, 1994 and 1997.

Assuming emissions continue to go up, they projected that the frequency of extreme positive dipole events would increase this century from one every 17.3 years to one every 6.3 years.

Picture credit: Al Jazeera

“The countries in the west of the Indian Ocean, so on the African coast, are going to see much, much more flooding and heavy rainfall relating to these events,” says Dr Turner. “You’re going to get more damaging impacts on crops and on infrastructure and flooding.

“On the other hand, in the east of the Indian Ocean, islands on the west side of Indonesia are going to see a greater chance of drought and reduced rainfall.”

Picture credit: Mwakilishi.com

“As non-meteorologists trying to plan ahead, we’re being faced with complex and changing scenarios. We’re just running to keep up. Looking now at southern and eastern Africa, with failed rainy seasons and then flooding, none of it looks normal,” she said.

“The new normal is a severe weather events. Looking at the Indian Ocean dipole’s effects, you have to see this is as a preview of what can be expected in other parts of world. And while I’m not surprised that attention of the world is elsewhere, that is still unforgivable given how many are suffering from a phenomenon the rest of the world helped create.”

On The Web This Week, 3 October

On The Web This Week, 3 October

On the web this week, Barbara Creecy calls for greater environmental literacy, a photo essay of life for Kenya’s game rangers, and Prince Harry honours soldier killed in anti-poaching operations in Malawi.

Picture Credit: Lepogo Lodges

A new safari lodge has opened in South Africa, and this one is unlike the rest.  Noka Camp part of Lepogo Lodges is believed to be the first luxury camp in Africa to offset the carbon footprint of every visiting guest.

Picture credit: Rhino unit patrol with the Big Life Foundation

Earlier this year, Intrepid Travel launched a first of its kind journey to Kenya bringing travellers into the rarely seen world of wildlife conservation rangers. Co-hosted by the non-profit The Thin Green Line Organization, the remarkable seven-day experience, Kenya: Wildlife Rangers Expedition, allowed a small group of travellers to spend a week on the front lines, immersed in the work of the Big Life Foundation and its rangers. TravelPulse brings us this picture gallery from the expedition.

Picture credit: AFP

Speaking of consrevation rangers, The Duke of Sussex has paid tribute to a British soldier killed during a counter-poaching operation in Malawi. Prince Harry laid a wreath for Mathew Talbot, 22, who was killed by an elephant in May. The duke was “honoured” to pay respects to Guardsman Talbot, who played a “huge part” in conservation efforts, a post on his Instagram account reads.

Picture credit: Reuters/Gopal Chitrakar

The Mail & Guardian published one of the best headlines I’ve ever read this week: Kung Fu Nuns Cycling For The Environment.

Picture credit: Alamy

Scientists are working to breed sheep that produce less greenhouse gases in order to reduce their impact on the environment. The Grass to Gas initiative will combine international scientific and industry expertise to measure two major factors affecting the environmental consequences of the livestock – feed efficiency and methane emissions. Its goal is to develop ways to identify animals with a lower impact, which can then be selected for breeding programmes.

And finally, if you’re thinking about growing your own vegetables, Rob Bob’s Aquaponics & Backyard Farm on youtube has this guide to starting an aquaponic garden:

Did you enjoy this week’s list? Have a story you’d like us to cover? Leave a comment below!