Africa only contributes 3.6% of total global emissions, but despite bearing almost none of the historic responsibility, many African countries are among the most vulnerable countries in the world
With the global climate change talks being hosted in the UK in November, a climate scientist for the World Meteorological Organisation Abubakr Salih Babiker shares 10 impacts of climate change in East Africa you didn’t know about.
Major cities in East Africa have seen temperatures rise far greater than pre-industrial times. Since 1860 Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) has warmed by 2.2°C, Khartoum (Sudan) by 2.09°C, Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) by 1.9°C, Mogadishu (Somalia) by 1.9°C, and Nairobi (Kenya) by 1.9°C. The ice cover of Mount Kilimanjaro decreased 85% between 1912 and 2007. The snow could disappear in less than 20 years and ice as soon as 2022.
Since the 1950s, heatwaves have become longer, more frequent, and hotter. Because heatwaves are not routinely monitored in sub-Saharan Africa, heat-related deaths are also constantly underreported. Under current climate projections, the fast-growing population of East Africa will face increased health risks due to extreme heat
Across East Africa, warm temperatures have increased rates of Malaria, Rift Valley Fever, Dengue, and Chikungunya. The warming of East African highlands is allowing malaria-carrying mosquitoes to survive at higher altitudes. Areas like central Kenya could be plunged into the Malaria zone and rates will go up in other parts of the country, turning the climate emergency into a health crisis.
The Indian Ocean is reportedly the fastest-warming ocean. Oceans absorb 90% of the heat caused by human activity. This is increasing the numbers and the intensity of tropical cyclones in East and Southern Africa. The strongest tropical cyclones on record to affect Mozambique and Somalia occurred in 2018 and 2019 and affected over 2 million people.
As the Indian Ocean warms, these cyclones are also starting to make landfall in the Arabian Peninsula. In 2018, the rainfall from cyclones Mekunu and Luban created desert lakes and vegetation, an ideal environment for the hatching of desert locusts. The cyclone winds helped the locusts reach East Africa leading to the worst outbreak in many decades.
In 2019, when East Africa experienced record rainfall and floods in many parts of the region, tomato prices skyrocketed in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. In Kenya, a kilo of Tomatoes went from 0.79 USD in 2017, to 2.78 USD in 2019. Climate change is expected to bring more frequent extremes and more intense rainfall. Predictions and forecasting remain key to reducing the extremely high vulnerability of East African farmers to climate change.
Climate models suggest that East Africa will be getting wetter in the years to come, increasing the risk of floods and displacement associated with more intense rainfall. The frequency of extremely wet short rains (October to December) are expected to increase, as well as wind speed and rain associated with tropical cyclones. To tackle this, communities need to build strength to climate shocks, as unprecedented climate extremes increase.
2020 was one of the wettest years on record. The short rains of 2019 were also wetter than usual. The water levels of many lakes reached very high levels. Lake Victoria rose to its highest level on record. The rising Lakes displaced people and destroyed livelihoods. The River Nile reached in August 2020 the level of 17.43 meters, the highest level since records began more than a century ago. For the Nile region, models predict that the flow of water in the river will increase by 15%, and the fluctuation in the annual amount of water the river carries will increase by 50% from year to year. Record-breaking rises in the lake levels are expected to continue into the future under current climate projections.
Climate Change is affecting the length of seasons. Analysis of trends from 1981 to 2010 shows that the duration of the seasons in East Africa is getting shorter due to changing rain patterns. This is impacting rural communities that use traditional forecasting methods to plan planting and harvesting.
Climate Change is making extreme climate events more frequent and more extreme. Cycles like the Indian Ocean Dipole and El Niño are expected to get worse as they strengthen. These drive the climate extremes we see in East Africa. Between 1997 and 2000, floods and droughts associated with El Niño — La Niña reduced Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 14%.
A lot of the progress made in East Africa over the past decades happened in climate-dependent sectors. However, climate change is posing an unprecedented threat to livelihoods and ecological systems.
H.E. Kate Airey OBE, British High Commissioner to Uganda said “Climate change presents a significant risk to Uganda’s future prosperity with climate impacts already costing lives and livelihoods. The UK is committed to working with Uganda to build resilience to these impacts for all communities and to support its long-term, green economic growth”.
This week is Africa Climate Week, the regional week run by the UN ahead of COP26 in Glasgow. During the week, countries will come together to develop their national strategies and plans to tackle climate change. On the first day of Africa Climate Week, the UK will host a series of events on COP26, how countries can access climate finance, and research to tackle climate change in Africa.