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Africa Developing Unified Climate Strategy

In this April 30, 2012 photo, people walk past a dry seasonal riverbed in the Matam region of northeastern Senegal. Since late 2011, aid groups had warned that devastating drought again weakened communities where children already live perilously close to
While an international agreement on climate change remains elusive, African nations are moving closer to a unified strategy. Africa has experienced more extreme weather events in recent years as global temperatures rise.
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Dr. Joseph Mukabana said the continent is on the front lines of climate change. He said that has led to a draft version of – what’s called -- The Implementation Plan of the Integrated African Strategy on Meteorology.

“Africa is the most vulnerable continent when it comes to climate change. Out of the 48 least developed countries, 33 are in Africa. So, the priority in Africa is to adapt on climate change. You either adapt or die,” he said.

Mukabana --director of the regional office for Africa and Least Developed Countries of the World Meteorological Organization – said that climate events far from Africa are having an effect on the continent.

“Ice in the polar regions are melting so the sea rises up and the small islands, of course, are in danger of submerging – and also the low lying coastal zones are having problems. So, it’s estimated sometime between 25 and 50 years [from now] the low lying coastal zones may be submerged – and the inundation will cover areas that are now inhabited.”

It’s imperative, he said, to protect Africa’s coastlines.

“The land degradation at coastal zones also ensures that the coastal zone habitat is interfered with. For example, in some areas you have mangrove forests being cut and yet mangrove forests were very good in conserving the environment at the coast. You have also the coral reefs being eroded. And yet the coral reef, if it is big enough, can form the first defense when the tsunamis come, for example. So we are destroying the coastal zone and that will impact on human beings also,” he said.

While rising seas pose one climate change-related problem, lack of rain in some regions poses another – frequent droughts.

“We depend mostly on seasonal rains, which farmers use to plant food crops. And so [with] the droughts, now you don’t have food; you have famine. You have malnutrition. The pastures are not there, so you have communities quarreling over the pastures. Essentially, in countries you have sometimes internal displacement because of drought. People looking for food, animals looking for pasture,” said Mukabana.

And ancient sources of fresh water may have little to offer today.
“The glaciers on mountains, like Mt. Kilimanjaro, are also disappearing very fast. And the rivers that were there, which were perennial, are now drying up,” he said.

While some areas are drying up, others can get too wet from much heavier than normal rains.

“So you have flood episodes, which are more frequent. And with the floods, of course, there is a destruction of life and also destruction of infrastructure, which happens very fast. So the economies are impacted that way,” said Mukabana.

To address the threat of climate change in Africa, the World Meteorological Organization and the African Union Commission called a meeting in Nairobi in 2010. Nearly 50 ministers from across the continent attended.

The meeting led to the Nairobi Declaration. The document noted the “increasing risks and threats to sustainable development associated with disasters.” It went on to say that 90-percent of those disasters were “due to or aggravated by meteorological or hydrological extreme events.” The Nairobi Declaration also “recognized that weather and climate information, services and products are of key importance for supporting climate-sensitive social and economic development centers.”

Mukabana said another product of the 2010 meeting was the creation of the African Ministerial Conference on Meteorology or AMCOMET.

“AMCOMET was formed to be a high-level mechanism for development of meteorology and its application in Africa. So the ministers also demanded that an integrated African strategy on meteorology should be developed. And that was developed,” he said.

That strategy is a mix of modern technology and scientific data and traditional knowledge, such as which crops are resistant to drought.

From May 26th through the 30th, some AMCOMET officials meet in Harare. They’ll consider the draft strategy and set an agenda for a full meeting of the conference in October. Ministers say the goal is to develop a “transformational approach…to introduce innovative adaptation measures that build the resilience of communities” to climate change.