29 April 2013

Africa: Climate Change - Expert Says Africans Should Be Proactive

AS the world marked Earth Day on Monday April 22, an African scientist said rural communities would bear the brunt of climate change.

Professor Benjamin Mapani, who teaches geology at the University of Namibia (Unam) and conducts research on the impacts of climate change, told The Namibian in an interview that Africans needed to be more proactive and invest in alternative sources of energy to stem deforestation and spur development.

Mapani said climatic patterns were changing drastically.

“In the 1970s we used to have floods and droughts but not as frequently as we do now. We can no longer use droughts as a clock. In African tradition we used to use droughts and floods as indicators of the past. We are losing certain plant species such as the famous Quiver tree in Namibia and we are getting a lot of invasive species which can flourish when there is no sufficient rainfall,” he said.

He said climatic changes were being observed in countries that include Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa which were lately getting unusually high rainfall and unusually frequent drought years.

“To read these patterns we use certain indicators like plants and water. If we look at rainfall patterns for about 18 years in Namibia - before that there were no accurate records of rainfall patterns - we see basic changes and we think this is being induced by climate change.”

Mapani believes that climate change will hit poor people in Africa the hardest and present serious challenges to African governments. Such challenges would include providing food to rural people as well as repairing and rebuilding infrastructure damaged by floods.

“Our communities in Africa are mostly subsistence communities that depend on the whims and changes in the weather patterns. Our agriculture can be termed as 80 percent rain-fed agriculture. Most of the rural communities rely on rain. There is no way African governments can afford to give food handouts from their own budgets to their communities. Food security will be a big challenge.”

Asked how well understood climate change was at grassroots level, Mapani said: “Local communities are beginning to be aware of the changes that are happening. I am studying bees with a colleague and we have observed that bees are moving from certain areas and going toward others. That is not good for the diversity of plant species.”

The research Mapani and his colleagues at Unam and elsewhere in the region are involved in includes looking at groundwater aquifers to see how they are being affected by climatic variations.

“We are also looking at diversity of species. Our colleagues in the biological sciences are looking at the coastline and the impact of diminishing sediment flow into the ocean as a result of changes in moisture on the continent. There are some groups in South Africa that are looking at land fertility as a result of oversupply and undersupply of water. Unfortunately, most of the people who are putting efforts are from outside the continent,” he said, adding that this showed that the people of Africa were not being proactive over climate change.

He would like to see more coordinated research on climate change on the continent and an end to the seemingly never-ending blame game between the north and the south over who is liable for climate change.

He also would want to see more effort towards the provision of electric energy to more people on the continent.

“I think we have not taken this energy where it is required - the rural areas. In the 1980s, Zimbabwe promoted the use of gas in the villages and there was reduction in deforestation. However, that model was never extended to other countries. For me, deforestation is a prime worry. People need energy. They have to cook and one cannot just tell them to stop cutting trees without providing alternative source of energy.”

He finds it ironic that countries like Germany and Australia where the sun is not strong are far more advanced in making use of solar energy than African countries.

“We should be moving in that direction. If we give people energy the process of development will be very fast,” he opined.

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