London — Widespread poverty and threats from worsening droughts and floods make Africa one of the continents most vulnerable to climate change, U.N. disaster officials say.
To help prepare the region for coming threats, the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) has teamed up with the CIMA Research Foundation to create drought and flood risk profiles for 16 African countries, to help quantify the economic, social and physical damages that climate change could cause.
"These profiles cannot be done by one ministry, by one country. It is a comprehensive effort by society," Luca Rossi, deputy chief for the UNISDR's regional Africa office, said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Sub-Saharan Africa's risk from climate threats is particularly high in part because many people still live on less than $1.25 a day, leaving them with little in the way of savings or financial resources to adapt to changing conditions or recover from stresses, U.N. officials aid.
UNISDR officials said they hope a clearer picture of the risks can push African governments, business leaders and other organisations to begin putting policies in place now to deal with them.
Results of the $2.5 million research effort, funded by the European Union, should be available starting in December, UNISDR said, and will look in particular at countries from Rwanda to Swaziland.
The data "will enable the countries to use the results to their own benefit" including through measures such as switching to more resilient agricultural practices or adopting more renewable energy, said Roberto Rudari, a CIMA project manager, in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The information may also help authorities decide how to build more disaster-resilient infrastructure, from schools and health facilities to transport links.
Helping countries anticipate and prepare for risks, rather than simply responding with aid after disasters strike, has been a growing focus globally and within the United Nations, Rossi said.
Right now, many countries continue to have a fairly limited view of how costly and debilitating climate threats may prove, he said.
"Climate changes have a cascade effect: loss of jobs, lack of taxes paid, disruption in schools. It's important to have a cultural switch, to raise the awareness (about climate change) of the citizens themselves," Rossi said.
- Reporting by Nicole Hoey ; editing by Laurie Goering