Africa: Climate Services are Crucial for Climate Adaptation But Underfunded, Report Says #AfricaClimateCrisis

8 October 2021

Water. Where we get it, how much it costs, and its quality are inescapable questions, the answers to which are crucial for life on earth. And as our climate changes due to the impact of human activity on the planet, it will become increasingly necessary to monitor and predict those changes and how they will affect the availability of water.

This is why a new report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) highlights the challenges affecting the production of accurate weather data across the globe, and helps us to see how to adapt to our changing climate.

The report, which contains input from more than 20 international organizations, development agencies and scientific institutions, draws global attention to how tenuous our water supply is and calls for urgent action to improve water management. It also calls for increased investment in water services, which, the report says, "underpins all the international goals on sustainable development, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction".

The world faces a severe water shortage in the next decade, and Africa is likely to bear the brunt, with the 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa the most affected by the crisis. Of the 783 million people who live without access to clean water, 40% live in sub-Saharan Africa - that's more than 320 million people who don't have safe drinking water.

In 2018, the world's attention was focused on the day when taps in Cape Town, South Africa, would run dry. Day Zero meant that locals would have to queue to receive a daily per-person ration of water. This situation was brought on by a three-year drought. But, according to Stanford University researchers, the climate crisis makes "drought five to six times more likely and suggest extreme drought events could become common in southwestern South Africa by the end of the 21st century".

Interestingly, a study by the Universities of Stellenbosch and Cape Town at the time of the crisis found that the fear of taps being turned off was more effective than water restrictions or higher tariffs in changing the consumption habits of locals.

Population growth is another important factor when it comes to managing water supply. The population of Lagos is reported to be growing ten times faster than New York or Los Angeles. As Nigeria's most densely populated city, it has almost 25 million people and is increasing by about 600,000 people every year.

Managing disasters

The WMO report says that Africa is one of the regions most affected by climate variability and change: "In the past 50 years," it says, "Africa recorded a total number of 1,695 disasters associated with weather-, water-, and climate-related events, involving 731,747 deaths and economic losses of US$ 38.5 billion. Droughts accounted for 16% of weather-, water-, and climate- related disasters, 95% of deaths, and 26% of economic losses."

And of the 101 WMO member countries, about 60% of their national meteorological and hydrological services - the national public agencies providing hydrological information and warning services to the government, public, and private sector - do not have the capacity to provide climate services for water.

Experts recommend filling the gap "in collecting data for basic hydrological variables which underpin climate services and early warning systems".

Water access also has a gendered dimension, as the responsibilities around water collection often fall to women and they are "disproportionately affected by water scarcity and quality, climate change, and natural hazards." Nevertheless, there are examples of women being powerful catalysts for change. However, "despite women's unique experiences and valuable perspectives, water management policies often fail to address gender inequality. Women and vulnerable groups are frequently absent from the decision-making processes."

What is being done

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has praised work done in Sierra Leone on monitoring water pollution in the Rokel catchment area, which forms part of the largest river in the country. It says that about "a third of all rivers in Latin America, Africa and Asia are routinely exposed to untreated wastewater and agricultural run-off. Across the developing world, water quality monitoring is sporadic, especially in Africa". This is why UNEP has been building global capacity to monitor water quality.

The report presents a number of case studies that offer hope. One example is that of the Sahel region.

The Sahel is prone to drought and desertification and a lack of rain hold dire consequences for local communities, leading to crop and livestock losses. Climate services are helping to boost services in this region as part of the Great Green Wall Initiative. Started in 2007 by the African Union, the plan was to plant an 8,000km long, 15km wide tree barrier linking Dakar to Djibouti. It has faced significant challenges and will now focus on establishing green and productive landscapes across a broad zone surrounding the Sahara. The aim is to restore whole agro-ecosystems through land management practices that enhance the livelihoods of rural people.

As part of the Initiative, climate information has played a significant role in improving the management of water resources and making the agriculture sector in the Sahel more resilient. In certain countries, such as Senegal, the establishment of a warning system to cope with climate uncertainties helps to provide advice to farmers on sustainable agricultural practices.

The report adds that integrated water resource management (IWRM) is key to achieving long-term social, economic and environmental well-being and calls for sustainable financing to support the 107 countries that remain off track to achieve the goal of sustainably managing their water resources by 2030.

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