8 June 2004

Namibia Seen As Vulnerable to Long-Term Climate Change

Windhoek — CLIMATE change aside, Namibia is expected to face an absolute water scarcity by 2020.

Ranked among countries that are likely to be the most vulnerable to climate change in the coming years, the water sector will be the hardest hit.

The greatest impact is likely to be in the central areas.

"Even in the case of a moderate increase in evaporation of 15 per cent and no change in rainfall, the additional stress on the water sector due to climate change would be severe," says Namibia's report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change launched by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism yesterday.

Investigations have shown that the sea level is expected to rise by as much as a metre by 2100, and will inundate significant parts of Walvis Bay.

Swakopmund and Henties Bay will also suffer from the changes, but to a lesser degree.

Minimum and maximum temperatures are likely to between two and six degrees Celsius higher in the next 96 years.

While there is still considerable uncertainty about what will happen to rainfall patterns, the report says that even if rainfall decreased by 30 per cent and coincided with an increase in evaporation of the same amount, as projected by some, "the impact on the water sector and human development in Namibia would be extreme".

Predictions of a change in rainfall patterns range from a minimal increase of 30 mm a year to severe decreases of 200 mm below the current annual average.

Climate change refers to any change in the earth's climate system that departs significantly from average weather conditions that occurred in the past few hundred years.

The changes may be due to natural variation; human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels; and the conversion of natural areas to farms and urban areas.

As a signatory to the convention since 1995, Namibia is required to document its situation regarding greenhouse gas emissions and the anticipated impact of climate change.

The aim of the convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will minimise interference with the climate system.

The report, that also outlines Namibia's mitigating actions and what it needs to respond to the effects of climate change, paints a bleak future for the productivity of the country's agricultural and marine fisheries as a result.

In the long run, climate change could also have a dramatic effect on household food security.

"In the extreme, climate change could lead to social disruptions and displacement amongst rural communities," notes the report.

Fisheries could be affected by possible changes to the Benguela Current.

This warming trend may have already contributed to the decline in fish stocks in recent years and could have a significant economic impact on Namibia in future.

The health of Namibians will also not escape the effects of climate change and an increase in malaria, under-nutrition, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections are forecast.

"Projected changes in climate could extend the area at risk from malaria southwards into the centre of the country, a trend that is already apparent," says the report.

While Namibia contributes very little to the world's greenhouse gas emissions, not enough is known about the extent and rate of bush encroachment and the consequent magnitude of carbon dioxide uptake.

The transport sector produces about half of Namibia's total carbon dioxide emissions and the current figure is expected to triple by 2100.

The digestive systems of cattle and sheep contribute 98 per cent of the methane emissions - a primary greenhouse gas.

Emissions of nitrous oxide are small and come mainly from savannah grass fires.

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