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Sahel climate change diary - Day 1

Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Emergency Relief Coordinator, talks to children in Opit camp for internally displaced people, Gulu district, northern Uganda, 9 September 2006. Egeland visited northern Uganda to assess the si
Jan Egeland, the UN Secretary General's Special Adviser on conflict is travelling in the Sahel to bring attention to climate change and conflict (Tugela Ridley/IRIN)

The UN Secretary General's Special Advisor on conflict, Jan Egeland, is travelling in the Sahel this week to draw the world's attention to a region the UN says is experiencing the worst effects of climate change in the world. He is writing a diary for IRIN, and this is the first instalment from the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou.

"There’s a very academic discussion happening in Europe right now still asking 'is the climate already changing' and 'is climate change noticeable today'. Here in Burkina Faso that debate is not happening, because the effects already speak for themselves.

"Although today was taken up with meeting the government and UN staff it was an eye opener, especially the discussions I had with the ministers of agriculture and environment. Everyone I have met has been full of examples of how everything to do with the climate and rainfall in Burkina Faso has just got so extreme over the last decade.

"Climate change in Burkina Faso does not mean there is less rain, it means that rainfall has got less predictable. And weather overall has become much more extreme in the way it comes – the heat, the cold, and the peaks and troughs of rainfall.

More on Jan Egeland's tour
 Backgrounder on the Sahel, West Africa’s poorest region
 Region is “ground zero” for climate change – Egeland
 More Sahel reports

"People cannot predict when rain will come. And then when it does, it falls in buckets. Last year in Burkina Faso, there were eight rainfalls over 150mm – that means eight major floods in one four month period.

"The alternative to floods is basically no rainfall – it’s all or nothing, and either way is a crisis for some of the poorest people on earth, in ways that are just completely unpredictable.

"I learned today that in areas where previously it never rained, people would bury their money in the ground for safekeeping because they do not have access to banks. Last year when torrential rain hit some of these areas, the ground turned into a quagmire and money was floating away in the flood waters, along with people’s houses and everything they own.

"That is a good example of just how bizarre the new realities people are facing here as they grapple with weather conditions they have never seen before. Another big fallout of course is on agriculture. People plant seedlings when the rain is supposed to start and then there is nothing, or very little rain, so the seedlings dry up and die. And then suddenly there is this massive rain that comes as a flood and everything is washed away.

"The other eye opener today was when the government presented me with figures showing that the average citizen in Burkina Faso is emitting 0.38 tonnes of co² every year. While the Chinese emit 10 times more, the British 30 times more and the Americans 75 times more per capita.

"And how the nation of Burkina Faso overall emits 4.5 million tonnes of co² per year, whereas Canada churns out 747 million tonnes - and the populations are roughly the same.

"It just proves this enormous moral issue that those who contributed nothing to climate change are bearing the brunt of the changes it is causing, whereas we who caused it all have gotten away with it – the north is getting away with murder basically.

''Those who contributed nothing to climate change are bearing the brunt of the changes it is causing''

"Is it hopeless? Absolutely not. The people in the government and the UN I met here today were clear that what Burkina Faso needs is investment. The country could produce a lot more food, that is if it got help with more and better seeds, fertiliser, and irrigation. The minister of foreign affairs said help with energy production and reforestation are also needed. I will be looking at concrete examples of solutions in the coming days.

"Unfortunately what people rightly pointed out to me is that so far there has been a lot of talk about helping developing countries cope with climate change, but they have not seen too much action.

"They are disillusioned, and that is really shameful when they did nothing to cause this situation, and we who created the problem are ignoring the consequences because they are not happening to us.

"Tomorrow we move on to Mali for more meetings in Bamako, before travelling to Faguibine, a dry lake near Timbuktu where it will be interesting to view climate change first hand."


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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