The Sahel region of West Africa is “ground zero” for vulnerable communities struggling to adapt to climate change, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on conflict, Jan Egeland, said on 2 June in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, as he began a mission to draw the world’s attention to mounting social pressures in the region.
“Many of the people here live on the edge even in normal times, so if there will be dramatic climate change as many predict, they will go over the cliff if there is no investment in adaptation,” he said.
In addition to Burkina Faso, Egeland, who was the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator from 2003 to 2006, will visit the capitals of Mali and Niger, and travel to Lake Chad in eastern Niger on the border with Nigeria and Chad, and Lake Saguibine in northern Mali. Both were once vast lakes that have since evaporated to become arid desert.
Egeland said the Sahel, a mostly landlocked region of over 15 million inhabitants in west and central Africa, is facing a “lethal mix” of threats including climate change, rising food prices and the trafficking of arms and drugs into and via the region. He said he will be urging governments in the region to cooperate more effectively in dealing with climate change.
“I am not among those who believe deterministically that climate change will lead to more conflict. It can also lead to more cooperation,” he said. “Look at the water wars which we were predicting 15 to 20 years ago that didn’t happen because people were able to cooperate.”
Last year, the UN Development Programme launched an appeal for donors to provide an additional US$84 billon in funds for climate change adaptation programmes, as well as scaling up their funding for humanitarian relief operations to help people in the developing world cope with the natural disasters – mainly droughts and floods – that climatologists predict will be increasingly frequent and severe until at least 2050.
The Sahel is expected to experience higher temperatures and extreme peaks and troughs in rainfall, resulting in reduced agricultural outputs and disruptive migration as people move around the region searching for water, fertile land and jobs.
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