8 February 2005

Namibia: Getting to Grips With Climate Change

Windhoek — NAMIBIA is facing increasing pressure to prepare for the effects of climate change, as sub-Saharan Africa is expected to become the region most vulnerable to global warming.

Critical water shortages and a strain on agricultural production because of increased aridity have been identified as two of the most serious predicted effects of climate change in Namibia.

But according to the country's Climate Change Programme Co-ordinator, Joseph McGann, few Namibians know what lies in store for them and how to prepare for the effects of climate change.

He told The Namibian that public forums on the topic held across the country last year indicated that most people were unaware of the national programme to prepare Namibia for this phenomenon.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism will host a national workshop in Windhoek tomorrow to discuss awareness raising, training, education and public access to information on climate change.

"The workshop is aimed at trying to put climate change on the public agenda. We want to develop a strategy to put the issue at the forefront of the public mind," McGann said ahead of the gathering.

A scientific conference on climate change held in Exeter in Britain last week noted that Africa would undoubtedly bear the brunt of global warming.

Africa's high vulnerability to global warming is expected to be exacerbated by other stresses such as poverty, conflict, high disease rate and rapid population growth.

Namibia's national programme on climate change has determined that by 2100, the sea level is expected to have risen by more than a metre, inundating parts of Walvis Bay and affecting important ground water sources.

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

The increased temperatures and reduced rainfall will gravely affect livestock farming and crop production, which will in turn affect food security, poverty levels and export earnings.

McGann said Namibia would have to direct its energies towards finding alternative water sources, doing research on crop types with greater drought tolerance and improving its health services to deal with an increase in malaria.

In the coming years Namibia's average rainfall is expected to decrease significantly, but the central areas can prepare for more rain and more cases of malaria.

Namibia has been a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change since 1995, in terms of which it is mandatory to report its levels of greenhouse gas emissions in order to minimise the effects on climate change.

"Although we in developing countries do not produce large volumes of fossil fuels, we are least prepared to adapt to that," said McGann.

McGann said developing countries such as Namibia would have to consider submitting its proposals on how it plans to mitigate the effects of the greenhouse effect to the developed world for assistance.

The world's eight richest nations, known as the G8, account for almost half the global carbon dioxide emissions.

Scientists say large volumes of carbon dioxide emissions are a major factor in climate change.

But the United States disputes this assertion and is also not party to the Kyoto Protocol which sets emissions targets for developed countries.

With the expected change in ocean currents, Namibia's fishing industry will also take a knock as fish stocks decline.

Namibians' health is predicted to deteriorate as a result of increased susceptibility to respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections because of drought, poor nutrition and a shortage of clean water.

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