(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

The human cost of climate change in Africa

As the Poznan Climate Change conference enters its final days, IRIN, with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), is pleased to announce the launch of eight short videos exploring the human cost of climate change in Africa.

Harvesting Rain

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Escaping Floods

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Creeping Desert

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Flooding Rivers

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Highland Malaria

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Coastal Erosion

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Mountain Drought

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Drip Irrigation

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The last mountain road you drive through en route to the village of Ha Tsui is called the God Help Me Pass, and after a few days in the village it is easy to see why.

The mountains of Lesotho have seen declining snow- and rainfall in recent years, and for the people of Ha Tsui, poor harvests have become the norm.

“Life will be tough because we don’t have any food,” said village chief, Paulosi Lebakeng. “Even when the crops grow well they don’t produce enough to feed our families.”

In West Africa, the Sahara desert is growing by thousands of square kilometres a year and the search for water for people and their animals becomes ever more desperate.

“When I was young it was easy to get water, but not these days,” said Alioune Modhi, a Mauritanian nomad.

“Sometimes I dig 12 wells and still don’t find water. It’s our biggest problem.”

Farther south in the Senegalese town of Saint Louis, Mukhtar Gaye and his neighbours have a different problem with water.

Rising levels means that every year the sea gets closer to their homes and it is now just a matter of when, not if, their houses are swept away.

“You don’t sleep well, you can’t eat well and you can’t go to work,” said Mukhtar. “You think about it all the time.”

For tens of thousands of Mozambicans meanwhile, the water threat comes not from the sea but from the rivers. Both the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers have flooded with growing frequency in recent years, resulting in heavy loss of life and livelihood.

“We prepare the area and plant maize and then the flood comes and destroys everything,” said Amelia Michaiae.

In Chokwe district, however, the Red Cross is teaching people to build grain silos in the trees to keep seeds safe when floods strike.  

All along the banks of the Zambezi, vulnerable populations are being moved to resettlement sites, where they are safe from the floods but no longer have access to their farms and livelihoods. Rebuilding them is proving difficult.

Malaria already kills a million Africans a year and warmer temperatures means that the malarial mosquito can now survive in highland communities that were previously immune. Children and the elderly have been worst hit.

But in some cases climate change may have a positive effect.

In the arid farmlands of eastern Kenya, a German NGO has been helping communities to harvest rain. Using the occasional rock features that interrupt the otherwise flat landscape, they are building simple reservoirs to catch rainwater as it runs down the rock face. The collected water is then sold for a token price. Some communities have invested in the stock market, others in drip irrigation - raising the real possibility that what started out as a survival technique may yet turn into a development tool.

Drip irrigation has become popular too in Senegal, where an Israeli NGO is teaching farmers the simple technique that gives them control over their crops and does not leave them entirely at the mercy of the climate.

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