Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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10.3. Adaptation Potential and Vulnerability

The foregoing assessment highlights the high vulnerability of Africa to climate change as a result of limited adaptive capacity constrained by numerous factors at the national level. The floods of February 2000 in southern Africa (which affected Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe) highlight huge differences in adaptive capacities between countries. Adaptive capacity was influenced largely by the ability to communicate potential risks to vulnerable communities and the ability to react as a result of perceived risks. The ability to mobilize emergency evacuation was critical in reducing adverse impacts. Although there may be high adaptive capacity locally or nationally, overall most countries in Africa have low capacity to adapt to abrupt and extreme events.

Scarce water resources are becoming increasingly critical for Africa; they determine food security as well as human and ecosystem health, and play a major role in political and socioeconomic development. Although parts of Africa have abundant water, shifting water to stressed areas is not an option in many cases. Groundwater resources are likely to be impacted by prolonged droughts and changes in land cover and land use, in a complex interaction of human activity and population growth rates, climate, and environmental responses. Adaptation will require small actions as well as major national approaches. At the management unit level (e.g., watershed), careful management of rainwater through damming will allow agricultural production. There is vast experience in arid regions of Africa such as Namibia, Botswana, and north Africa (such as Morocco), where brief periods of rain are utilized very efficiently for farming. The constraint will be in finding limits to water extraction that do not adversely impact communities downstream and result in conflicts. Regional bodies set up to negotiate international water rights will play an increasingly crucial role. At the national level, political goals such as self-sufficiency in food production will need to be reevaluated with reference to water resources available to the country and how they can be apportioned between food production, human needs, and ecosystem needs. Countries will need to be more open to fulfilling their food needs through imports and redistribution, using intensified production in areas where it is possible. Good communications within and between countries and major ports are critical to food security. These include roads, rail, and air transportation networks. For inland countries, large corridors being opened up or upgraded (such as the Maputo, Nacala, and Beira corridors between Mozambique and South Africa, Malawi, and Zimbabwe) will greatly enhance access to food and other imported goods. This places greater importance on international relations.

At the subregional scale, Africa is vulnerable to ENSO and related extreme events (drought, floods, changed patterns). As shown by Semazzi and Song (2000), deforestation is likely to alter circulations in distant places through teleconnected feedbacks, increasing the vulnerability of distant populations. Advances in seasonal forecasting, using climate models and satellite observations, has been shown to be a first-order response strategy to changing climate variability. Similar applications of satellite observations (such as for SST) also are useful in predicting disease outbreaks such as RVF. Effective communication of predicted extreme weather events and evaluation of potential risks is critical in minimizing human loss of life, where it is possible to react. Disaster management plans are required and need to be developed jointly with all members of a community.

There is great potential in investing in seasonal forecasting and development of tools (models) such as crop models that can be used to make adjustments in management. Although these models are still experimental, they offer a realistic response to changing climatic patterns. Data must be collected to calibrate and validate these models. In the longer term, governments will need to develop strategic plans that are based on solid foundations. This is an area that is underdeveloped in almost all of Africa.

External funding drives programs in many African countries, so agendas usually align closely with donor agency interests. This situation presents a dilemma for Africa. There is capacity in many countries now to evaluate effective strategies to adapt to adverse effects of climate change. However, these countries are at the mercy of donor agency representatives who often are less informed about issues of climate change. These representatives often regard immediate problems of poverty, erosion, health, and empowerment as the only priority issues for Africa. Longer term planning—for example, land-use planning in areas that are susceptible to flooding under infrequent cyclonic events—never receives the attention it deserves. Most African countries are unlikely to motivate internal funding for climate change; therefore, it is critical that funding agencies award high visibility to issues of climate change.

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