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Climate change threatens regional food security

[Angola] Bie, Former Angolan refugees awaiting monthly food distribution. WFP
More than 10 million people are in need of food aid in Southern Africa
Climate change could force drought-prone areas of southern Africa to abandon agriculture permanently in the next 50 years, according to new research.

As a result of global warming, "weather events will become less predictable and more intense - heavier rainfall and longer and more frequent drought cycles", said Martin Krause, the regional technical advisor on climate change with the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility (UNDP-GEF), which helps raise funds for projects in developing countries.

The projections are contained in a recent report, 'Africa-Up in Smoke 2', an update of an earlier report produced by the British-based Working Group on Climate Change and Development.

Southern Africa has been grappling with a series of droughts for the past six years which has hit regional food security. This year was slightly better, with most countries receiving seasonal rainfall on time, yet humanitarian agencies estimate that at least three million people will need food aid until the end of the lean season in March 2007.

"Climate change impacts will be a reality for the next decade or two and cannot be avoided," said Saleemul Huq, director of the London-based International Institute for Environment and Development's (IIED) climate change programme, adding that the poorest developing countries were most at risk.

Arid Namibia is particulalrly vulnerable to the impact of global warming. By 2080 over 30 percent of threatened plant species will become critically endangered or extinct, according to the IIED, a policy think-tank that is part of the Working Group on Climate Change and Development.

Namibia may already have begun to feel the effects. "Marine fisheries rely on the nutrient-rich upwellings of the cold Benguela current on Namibia's west coast, and are threatened by possible changes in the frequency and timing of the current. Over the last decade, a trend of warmer sea surface temperatures has been noted over the northern Benguela region and there is concern that the warming trend might be one of several environmental factors that have contributed to declining fish stocks," an IIED paper warned.

To reduce the impact of global warming, Huq urged African countries to impress upon the developed world the need to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases and take steps to adapt. "One of the key outcomes expected of the UN Climate Change Conference [being held in Nairobi, Kenya, this week] is an agreement on how to manage the Adaptation Fund, set up by the developed countries to provide financial assistance to countries affected by climate," said Huq.

UNDP-GEF has already drawn up plans for climate change adaptation projects in the region, such as introducing drought-resistant seedlings, persuading rain-reliant farmers to take up irrigation, constructing small dams and creating access to underground water. "The project will also provide funds to communities to cope with drought through diversification of livelihood - becoming less reliant on non-farming activities - like taking up handicrafts or setting up small businesses," said Krause.

One such project is geared to start in Mozambique in January next year. It will assist 90,000 Mozambicans in the drought-prone Guija district in southern Gaza province by providing them with drought-resistant seedlings.

"A functioning early warning system is critical to the success of our projects," added Krause. Most countries in the region have a meteorological service for the agriculture sector but it is often not functional. "Part of our job would be to ensure that the system works effectively for the local farmers."

Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the region, is emerging from one of its worst droughts in decade. The country proposed an improved early warning system as part of the national adaptation programme put before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and pointed out in its plan of action that the human health sector was being directly affected by climate change.

Malaria, for example, is expected to increase and spread to previously cooler zones as temperatures rise as a result of global warming. Malawi has proposed simple proactive measures such as the distribution of treated bed-nets and improved nutrition for infants and other vulnerable groups.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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