The Effect Climate Change Has on Water In Africa
By Jae Warax
The impact climate change has on the world is worsening – especially in the hottest climates. Amidst the problems arising and predicted for the future in the continent, vulnerable populations in Africa are being hit the hardest. La Niña threatens drought on the eastern side of the continent due to shifting winds and water temperature. Meanwhile, invasions of locusts and destructive floods wreak havoc on communities. According to World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, “the human and economic toll has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”[i] The WMO focuses on the atmosphere of Earth, how it interacts with land/water, the weather/climate produced, and the water distribution as a result. The impact of climate change in Africa is great and growing larger. Unless there are rapid, substantial changes to greenhouse gas emissions, the people left vulnerable will suffer. For this reason, reusable non-fossil-fuel energy sources need to be industrialized, carbon emissions must be heavily cut, and equipment that contributes to greenhouse gasses must be utilized less.
Climate Change in Africa
In the last century, much of Africa has already increased over 1 °C. With this comes severe heatwaves and droughts, which also result in agriculture failure.[ii] According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)[iii], a big reduction in precipitation in North Africa and south-western South Africa is likely by the end of the century. In several oceanic areas surrounding the continent, there was a sea-level increase of 5mm per year, and in places such as the south-western Indian Ocean between Madagascar and eastward beyond the island of Mauritius, the sea-level rose above 5mm per year. In both cases, this increase exceeds the average global rise of 3-4mm per year.
Africa is the 2nd driest continent after Australia. It holds 9% of Earth’s renewable fresh water and is inhabited by 15% of the population. One of the biggest challenges faced with water in Africa is the way it is distributed. Just under 50% of the entirety of freshwater in Africa is in central Africa. Around 40% of Africa’s population live in areas where rainfall is scarce, or where it’s sub-humid; while 60% live rurally. Almost all of Africa’s population depends on rainfed agriculture and is highly susceptible to changes in climate.
How climate change impacts the populations
Amid arid regions of the continent, such as North Africa, there are less than 1,000 cubic meters of water per person per year. Comparably, the United States uses almost 2,000 cubic meters of water per person, per year.[iv] Sub-Saharan Africa has more access to physical water versus rain water. However, there is a constraint on water access because of poor infrastructure and infrastructure maintenance. Many countries in Africa face economic water scarcity because they are unable to finance the necessary framework.
Many African people and their agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change has several factors: poverty, low adaptability, frequent droughts/floods, government stability, and agriculture that depends mainly on rainfall. Early warning systems and water resource management investments are necessary to combat climate change induced water risks. Climate change desertifies some parts of Africa, with West Africa being the most heavily affected. There hasn’t been enough research to determine the connection between groundwater and climate change, however, it’s safe to say that the latter will affect the former. With less rainfall comes less absorption into the ground. Warm temperatures cause higher amounts of evaporation – therefore, less water.[v] Most of the rural water supply is groundwater, therefore this can quickly become a problem.
With insufficient infrastructure for water distribution as well as the high population growth many African nations are experiencing strain on water sources even without climate change. Factoring out the temperature changes, more African countries will surpass the limits of their “economically usable, land-based water resources before 2025” (UNC).[vi] Reinclude climate change into these predictions and it doesn’t look promising on the water stress front. To combat climate change there must be “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities,”[vii] according to the IPCC.
There are many places negatively impacted by the warming climate. Nearly 50% of Africa already faces water scarcity,[viii] and temperature rising makes that scarce resource far more precious, and inaccessible. Carbon emissions are the main offender, so cutting them is the only way to truly progress in the right direction. Water is a necessity for life. No one should go without, yet people are being allowed to.
[i] “Climate Change Is an Increasing Threat to Africa | UNFCCC,” accessed June 2, 2022, https://unfccc.int/news/climate-change-is-an-increasing-threat-to-africa.
[ii] “United Nations Economic Commission for Africa: Climate Change and Water Resources of Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Impacts,” accessed June 2, 2022, https://www.uncclearn.org/wp-content/uploads/library/uneca07.pdf
[iii] The United Nations body with foremost authority that assesses climate change related science
[iv] “United Nations Economic Commission for Africa: Climate Change and Water Resources of Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Impacts,” accessed June 2, 2022, https://www.uncclearn.org/wp-content/uploads/library/uneca07.pdf
[v] Wen-Ying Wu et al., “Divergent Effects of Climate Change on Future Groundwater Availability in Key Mid-Latitude Aquifers,” Nature Communications 11, no. 1 (July 24, 2020): 3710, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-17581-y.
[vi] “United Nations Economic Commission for Africa: Climate Change and Water Resources of Africa: Challenges, Opportunities and Impacts,” accessed June 2, 2022, https://www.uncclearn.org/wp-content/uploads/library/uneca07.pdf
[vii] “Global Warming: Severe Consequences for Africa,” Africa Renewal, December 7, 2018, https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2018-march-2019/global-warming-severe-consequences-africa
[viii] “Regional Focus: Africa | International Decade for Action ‘Water for Life’ 2005-2015,” accessed June 15, 2022, https://www.un.org/waterforlifedecade/africa.shtml