Climate change is the greatest threat to humanity and the grand irony is that humans might be the architects of their own downfall, said Derek Hanekom, South Africa's Deputy Minister of Science and Technology at the signing of a declaration that will establish a regional science centre to support cross-border research into climate change.
Speaking at the signing ceremony on Wednesday last week, Hanekom said although sub-Saharan Africa is not the biggest culprit when it comes to pollution, it is the most affected by the impact of climate change.
Five southern African countries, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia, Angola and Botswana, with the assistance of the German government, will establish the Southern Africa Science Service Centre for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL). The signing of the joint declaration effectively inaugurated the centre.
SASSCAL aims to strengthen trans-boundary science and technology development in the SADC region using regional and international expertise.
Also speaking at the ceremony, Zambia's Minister of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Education, Dr John Phiri, said for too long Africa has relied on data and information on climate change from scientists outside the continent, therefore SASSCAL would come in handy.
"We have tended to look at climate change, food security and poverty challenges separately. We know that 60% of our people live in rural areas, we also know that 90% of our rural population depend on agriculture; most important of all, we do know the future climate predictions give a much more uncertain climatic condition for agriculture, with potentially devastating negative consequences.
"We also know that the situation in my country is not peculiar to us; the situation is the same for the whole of SADC and Africa in general. It is for this reason that my government attaches great importance to this initiative we are launching," said Phiri.
He added that the SASSCAL initiative will help the region to understand climate change and its impact on agriculture, land management, water resources management and biodiversity and will lead to [new] strategies from the emerging knowledge and help understand how to deal with the challenges of climate change.
The urgency to address climate change issues has escalated significantly in recent times, according to John Mutorwa, Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry.
"The agriculture and natural resources sectors, on a global scale, are increasingly affected by the energy, food and economic crises. This dire situation is further compounded by natural disasters such as periodic droughts and floods which are predicted to escalate due to the very real threat of climate change.
"The forecasts are decidedly gloomy - our region, with its high dependence on climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, will be hard-hit by the effects of climate change, leading to the spread of deserts, water shortages, loss of fertile soil, biodiversity and agricultural output. Hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced, aggravating poverty and increasing the spread of vector-borne diseases and epidemics such as malaria, meningitis and cholera," said Mutorwa.
He added that SADC has been singled out to be most at risk, therefore it is necessary that the region coordinates and communicates across borders to jointly prepare for climate change.
Namibia will host the SASSCAL secretariat. The centre will be established by August 2012. The German government provides technical assistance and seed funding for the initiative. The federal government has committed a budget of N$500 million to fund operations of SASSCAL for the first four years.