The effects of climate change due to global warming have already taken a toll on poor communities, jeopardising efforts to reduce poverty, warned humanitarian and development agencies in a new report released this week.
The Working Group on Climate Change and Development, a coalition of environmental and aid agencies, noted that agricultural production, water supplies, public health and people's livelihoods were all being undermined by the effects of climatic change.
In a report entitled, 'Up in Smoke? Threats from, and Responses to, the Impact of Global Warming on Human Development', the coalition called for urgent action to avert the threat.
Climatic research in three districts in South Africa showed frequent and more intense droughts in the last 30 years; in Majancaze district in Mozambique's Gaza Province, extreme weather patterns had resulted in floods and droughts that had had a severe impact on people's lives.
During the Mozambican floods in 2000 (the worst in 150 years), the lowlands of the Limpopo river were inundated for up to three months. The floods lasted so long that plant resources local people relied on were wiped out. "Stored food, seed reserves, and all field crops were destroyed, forcing farmers to find seed from far away," researchers pointed out.
In a recent study the United Kingdom's Department For International Development warned that there could be an increase in the frequency of natural disasters in Southern Africa due to global warming. The aid agency called for greater investment in preparedness and risk reduction by regional governments.
Environmentalists argue that industrialised countries should shoulder the lion's share of the responsibility for global warming.
"Indeed, there are many debates over the actions of industrialised countries and how the effects of global warming fall disproportionately upon developing countries and the poor. But it is worthwhile to look at how local communities are coping with current climatic change," Chasca Twyman, policy and livelihoods researcher at the University of Sheffield, told IRIN.
She explained that recent research in Southern Africa showed that local communities were "much more resourceful" than was previously believed.
"Southern Africa has had to deal with climatic variability for the past 30 years, and so people tend to draw on established coping mechanisms such as social safety networks. In times of additional stress, people are able to draw on traditional knowledge and networks," she commented.
There was concern, however, that while some communities had adapted to the effects of climate change "other communities are doing much less well."
The coalition's 17 members, which include ActionAid, Christian Aid, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Oxfam, called on industrialised countries to cut carbon emissions significantly by 2050.
The group said industrialised countries should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80 percent below their 1990 levels well beyond what was agreed under the Kyoto protocol.
It also appealed for action to be taken to relocate communities threatened by climate change.
Faced by "the intertwined challenges of obscene levels of poverty and a rapidly warming global climate", the report said, "humanity has no choice".