The dangers of climate change in Southern Africa

The dangers of climate change in Southern Africa

Climate change has had adverse effects on development and security in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, culminating in environmental and human insecurity.

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By Phillip Nyasha Fungurai

Climate change has had adverse effects on development and security in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, culminating in environmental and human insecurity. The SADC region has been experiencing more intensive droughts that can be attributed to climate change, the net effect of which has been has been food insecurity and a negative impact on the vector population at the larval and adult stages. Thus climate change has been a huge danger by increasingly affecting natural life support systems. The frequent floods and tropical cyclones that have been one of the major drivers of the refugee crisis in the SADC region has also been attributed to climate change by meteorological experts and analysts. All these dangers that have accompanied climate change have drained the region’s meagre financial coffers in disaster management, response systems and resuscitating infrastructure of affected areas.

The SADC is a regional economic community of 15 Southern African states with the overriding prerogative of promoting economic development, regional integration, improved quality of life coupled with regional security within the region. Countries in the bloc are South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Angola, Seychelles, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Tanzania, Madagascar, Malawi and Mauritius. Climate change can be conceptualised as a significant change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns for an extended period of time. Causative factors of this phenomenon include biotic processes, variations in solar radiations received by earth, plate tectonics and global warming induced by human activities like deforestation. The Millennium Project, (2015) postulates that environmental security refers to environmental viability for life support and threats posed by environmental events and trends; environmental conflicts coupled with protecting the environmental due to its inherent moral value.

Dangers of Climate change to SADC

The chief danger of climate change to the SADC has been frequent floods and tropical cyclones. This is best typified by the 2001 Cyclone Eline which devastated large parts of the Limpopo basin, Central and southern Mozambique, South eastern parts of Zimbabwe coupled with parts of Botswana and South Africa. This was accompanied by cyclone Japhet in 2003, cyclone Giovanna and cyclone Funso in 2012 which hit Madagascar and Mozambique.

All these cyclones resulted in over 300,000 environmental refugees in the SADC region and over 400,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs); notwithstanding the loss of life, stagnated human development, coupled with disruption of sustainable livelihoods. Apart from depleting the financial coffers of member states, the climate change induced disasters fused substantial environmental and human insecurity.

The increased frequency of hot days and intensive droughts can also be attributed to climate change. High temperatures affect the formation and dispersal of various air pollutants, thus impacting on air quality. McMichael, (2009) asserts that the ozone, a major urban pollutant in the lower atmosphere, forms more readily at higher temperatures from air pollutant precursors. This in turn aggravates water scarcity, resulting in severe droughts, reduced crop and pasture yields, (Gage, 2008).

Food insecurity is another danger presented by climate change. Climate change stirs floods and cyclones that disrupt livelihoods and impedes food production. On the other hand, the fish population will be compelled to move to elevated latitudes which will impinge on protein supplies and livelihoods in coastal communities. This effect will be exacerbated by effects of coral reef damage, warmer waters, acidification and decreased consistency of river flows, (McMichael, 2009) negatively impacting marine ecosystem and eco-tourism along the Mozambique channel. This is affirmed by Dube (2009), who holds that warming of the sea will affect the resurgence processes responsible for transporting nutrients from the deep layer of oceans to the surface for feeding the fish, thus affecting fisheries and having implications on income generation, malnutrition and eventually health.

From a health perspective, one can also note that heavy runoff after flooding can result in the contamination of recreational waters and boreholes, which are quite common in parts of Southern Africa. These will in turn result in amplified risks of sickness through advanced bacterial counts. Eventually there will be the spread of diarrhoeal diseases and cholera outbreaks, increased infant mortality, and reduced life expectancy.

Recommendations for SADC

  • The current norm of mere commitment to international statutes on climate change by SADC is not enough to combat the regional yet global threat posed by climate change. SADC needs to stride the extra mile. The major cause of climate change in the SADC region has been deforestation. In this regard, it is important for SADC to engage in serious cyber, media and community campaigns against deforestation, coupled with strict enforcement of laws against the same. Since 1990 Southern Africa has experienced the highest rate of deforestation in Africa, contributing 31% to Africa’s deforested area. Thus advocating, legislating and campaigning against deforestation should be SADC’s chief priority, even if it means establishing the ‘Green police’.
  • There is strong need for SADC to institutionalise and operationalize a disaster management unit that can efficiently and effectively combat the causes and adverse effects of climate change. To achieve this, SADC has to exert more political will and finances towards the unit. The same institution can further engage in regional education campaigns on the causes of climate change, global warming and ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from micro-levels (household level) to macro-levels (national and regional). The institution can have stations in each member state, discharging the intrinsic role of enforcing green laws, coupled with assuming the prerogative of watchdog and whistleblower to environmental ills and practices. Currently, SADC is a toothless bulldog plagued with daunting capacity shortfalls with regards to combating climate change and its impact.
  • There is strong need for SADC member states to mainstream climate change in national planning and budgeting. Budgetary and national planning commitments will make fruitful strides towards enhancing human and institutional capacities. A crucial point of departure would be mainstreaming climate change in the education sector by incorporating it into school curricula by member states. This will be a form of capacity building starting at the grass root to the national, then regional level.

Phillip Nyasha Fungurai is a passionate young researcher who holds a Bsc    Honours Degree in Peace and Governance. He is co founder and President of the Movement for Youth in Peace and Conflict transformation (Mypct) a youth association registered with the Zimbabwe Youth Council. He is also a Peace and Governance, Human rights and Democracy patron and specialist who works in cohorts with civil society organizations, think tanks and research institutes in Zimbabwe.

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