Durban — As the world gathers in the South African City of Durban for the biggest annual summit to review and take stock of the collective decisions on fighting climate change, the global gaze is turning to Africa and how the continent is coming to terms with a changing climate.
While Africa produces the least amount of carbon dioxide compared to any other region in the world, it is considered the most vulnerable to droughts, floods and other extreme weather events that scientists fear will increase as the Earth gets hotter.
Already, changing weather and rainfall patterns are having a major impact on the continent with record greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere, more frequent and intense extreme weather events.
The devastating drought that hit the Horn of Africa earlier this year affected 11 countries and 12 million people. In stark contrast, the Niger River rose to its highest levels in 80 years last year, making one million people homeless in West of Africa.
Meanwhile, Lake Chad, which is the source of water for 30 million people in Chad, Niger and Nigeria, is drying up as rainfall patterns change across the continent leading to migration and conflict.
In Ghana, it is feared that acute water shortages linked to climate change could see the country become one of the world's water-stressed nations by 2025, according to a study by researchers who say urgent adaptation measures are needed to help Ghanaians cope with dwindling water supplies.
Water stress - which occurs when demand for water exceeds supply during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use - not only affects individuals' access to water for drinking, cooking and washing but also impacts farming, power generation and economic growth.
Ghana is forecast to experience a general reduction in annual river flows of 15-20 percent by 2020, rising to 30-40 percent by 2050, according to the study by Ghana's water research agency, the Water Research Institute, part of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research.
"Considering the effects of climate change that we are currently experiencing in Ghana, water scarcity is most likely to worsen in many parts of the country in the future," said the institute's lead research scientist Barnabas Amisigo.
According to Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, climate change is adding to an already tough set of development challenges for the continent.
Around 560 million Africans do not have access to modern energy, for example. And weak infrastructure water, roads, electricity and communication technologies cuts economic growth by two percentage points per year.
Cost of adapting
With the cost of adapting to climate change added to the mix, Sub-Saharan Africa alone will need to find another $14-17 billion a year between now and 2050, according to a recent World Bank study.
But as the momentum heightens for action to fight climate change, Ms Ezekwesili remains optimistic about the continent's future. If Africa's economies continue to grow at the present rate, the continent's GDP could double in about 12 years.
"This means Africa has a unique opportunity as it goes about building its roads, cities and ports for the future," adding that, "Our growing cities can be low-carbon and our agriculture can become climate-smart and thereby, more productive", Ms Ezekwesili said.
The World Bank Group has about US$7 billion in planned investments to help Africa deal with climate change.
These efforts range from helping countries come to terms with climate risks and vulnerabilities to designing new climate-friendly policies to making the shift to renewable forms of energy.
"Our goal in Africa is to build a longer-term vision for growth. We have several programs that are supporting countries to design policies that show a different pathway to growth, says Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Program Manager, Africa Region.
The World Bank-supported Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR) is one such program working in Niger and Zambia.
"The process of designing the program has been important. In Niger, they were building a development program around food security. We helped push the envelope and now the plan incorporates climate change considerations, explain Pswarayi-Riddihough.
PPCR is part of the Climate Investment Funds (CIFs), a dedicated resource for climate action with the World Bank as one of the partners. Similar plans are being developed for 11 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa showing the way
As it grows, Africa needs climate-resilient infrastructure that can withstand 1-in-50 year flooding rather than the 1-in-100 year type.
Progress is being made in Ethiopia, more stringent road building norms are being adopted that will avoid the larger cost of future repair.
In Madagascar, preparing and adopting emergency preparedness plans are helping build resilience to more frequent cyclones.
In the Niger River basin, home to over a 100 million people in nine countries, riparian countries have come together to chart a development plan for water storage, irrigation, hydropower, and fisheries. The groups of countries have asked the World Bank to help the Niger Basin Authority assess risks from climate change to the broader plan and reflect these in future climate-resilient investments.
Some of the tools that are being used to better manage water resources include a new breed of sensors, mobile phones, satellite remote sensing systems, and new open data platforms.
Mobile phones, for example, are being used to send text messages to farmers about their quotas of irrigation water for the day.
The World Bank has also been reaching out to a new generation of creative thinkers in Africa through events like the Hackathon organized in Zambia last month to help find technological solutions to climate risks and water scarcity.
Africa is also showing that it is possible to make the shift to renewables while providing much-needed access to energy.
New hydro projects are under consideration in Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Cameroon. Kenya is expanding geothermal power production. And through the Lighting Africa initiative, the aim is to bring light to 250 million Sub-Saharan Africans by 2030 through high-tech energy-saving lamps.
Agriculture which employs up to 70 per cent of people in some countries is a big priority for Africa. Now, 12 West African and Sahelian countries are implementing an action plan for 'climate smart agriculture which increases productivity while sequestering carbon.
The Humbo Community-Based Natural Regeneration Project is regenerating almost 3,000 hectares of native natural forest and the community is earning revenues from the sale of carbon credits to the BioCarbon Fund. In Kenya, farmers will soon be getting carbon credits for introducing better farming practices.
But as Ezekwesili says, "climate change is not purely about threats, it's actually the opportunities that it presents to Africa to completely transform its development path".