19 November 2012

Rwanda: Of Rain and Climate Change


IF Al Gore's 'An Inconvenient Truth' did not do the job, then surely Kigali rains have - opened your eyes to the reality of climate change.

The almost-torrential rains accompanied by scotching temperatures would only seem normal if they were indeed normal; when I was last in Rwanda a few years ago it just did not rain like this!

Fair enough, this extreme weather is similar to the weather events being witnessed worldwide.

Multiple strains such as population growth and economic expansion make most of Africa highly vulnerable to environmental changes (Burundi is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world), and climate change is likely to increase this vulnerability if nothing changes.

I wondered, save for the kill-your-afternoon-plan rains, how is Rwanda fairing with this climate change? This past week I landed on the GAIN index: a project by the Global Adaption Institute (GAIN) that summarizes a country's readiness and vulnerability to climate change.

Adjusting for GDP, Rwanda ranks 53rd on the GAIN index - 7th in readiness (fantastic!), and unfortunately 139th in vulnerability.

To put this into context, the GAIN vulnerability metric has "two dimensions: three core components (exposure to climate-related hazards, sensitivity to their impacts and capacity to cope with those impacts) and six sector indicators (water, food, health, human habitat and infrastructure)". Fair to say we aren't doing well in that department.

The GAIN index measures the resilience of countries to climate change - at 53 we are doing well compared to most developing nations but it is still imperative that we do more to protect our habitat and ecosystems, especially since our vulnerability rankings are quite dismal.

What should be of main concern? At this time food security and water management should be as they are closely tied to climate change and population growth.

Adaptations to change can at the very least reduce vulnerability: for example methods to protect agricultural livelihoods nationwide such as drought-resistant seeds, improved terracing practices, upgraded storage facilities, you name it.

But there is more to worry about: a rise in temperatures will translate into more Rwandans at risk of malaria infection and if this surge isn't curbed, our primate friends the mountain gorillas may have their days numbered.

Holistically speaking, we need better information on specific Rwandan circumstances, more Rwandan experts to make informed decisions on practical adaptation actions, intensive research and aggressive information dissemination.

The National Strategy on Climate Change and Low Carbon Development and the plans for initiatives such as the Climate Knowledge Center and the National Fund for Climate and Environment are efforts for which Rwanda has received the highest accolades but yet the fact remains that we cannot curb the problem ourselves.

If this kind of determination could be shared by our neighbors in the East African community, there will be more fruit to bear.

There's room to do much more but to answer my question at the beginning, Rwanda's report card looks good - cheers to us!

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