As we speak today, more than 17 million people face hunger in the Horn of Africa as a result of severe drought. The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) reports that the drought is ravaging Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda.

The time to act is now. What is required is an integrated approach that views climate change and socio-economic development as mutually dependent. The Paris Climate Agreement, signed in December 2015, the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) all support an integrated approach premised on how the environment can be leverage for sustainable development. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” This is certainly true when it comes to climate change and the biting drought that is affecting Africa today.

The SDGs and Agenda 2030 promise to ‘leave no one behind’ and the AU Agenda 2063 promises to ‘create the Africa we want’. The irrefutable and dire scientific warnings show very clearly that life itself is at stake in this combat, but we have the power to win it if we adopt an integrated approach. Such an approach would view dealing with climate change and socio-economic development as mutually dependent.

 

Climate change actions can safeguard the destiny of present and future generations who live in those high-risk areas.

 

Converting opportunity into reality through ‘climate resilience actions’

Given that humanitarian crises, like these occurring droughts, are reinforced by climate change, solutions will need to be anchored within a broader strategy of combating climate change and ecosystems degradation.

Firstly, at the strategic level, African countries should leverage the global response to climate change to mobilise resources – technical, technological, financial, as well as political support – towards simultaneously solving the drought crises and combating climate change. This would ensure that humanitarian efforts have the locus standi to leverage on provisions of the Paris Climate Change Agreement for implementation capacity. To practically achieve this, framework initiatives that would domesticate the Paris Agreement in Africa, such as the Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA), provides an inclusive framework to mobilise stakeholders in the humanitarian sector to participate in a country-driven response to climate change.

Secondly, at the operational level, a number of actions can be prioritised immediately, in the medium term and in the long term.

WoMin African Gender and Extractives Alliance. Photo: parisclimatejustice.org

Interventions at the operational level

In the short term, there is definitely a need to pool the resources of environment and humanitarian stakeholders for the joint implementation of short-term environment-based humanitarian interventions – for example, drilling boreholes and rehabilitating dams. This would ensure that emergency operations adequately informed long-term environmental policies as part of a preventative strategy to mitigate or prevent future crises driven by environmental degradation and climate change. This is already happening. Countries could prioritise early emergency responses, which would reduce the cost associated with crises. The cost of early responses is relatively low at USD10 per family, compared to the USD50 per family that a response costs at the height of crisis. Governments should therefore set aside contingency funds for rapid responses at the onset of a crisis.

In the medium- to long term, countries need to formulate policies that prioritise the application of Ecosystems Based Adaptation techniques (EBA). EBA techniques work towards the restoration of previously degraded ecosystems to avert future crises. There are many successful examples across the continent.

For example, EBA approaches of Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR) have restored 2 700 hectares of barren mountain terrain in Ethiopia. Reported benefits include increased food security and reduced poverty through increased income from forest products and livestock fodder; improved water infiltration, which has improved the ground water levels; reduced erosion and increased soil fertility in the region. In Malawi, 28 000 trees planted to restore 15ha of previously degraded land along river banks have resulted in the restoration of perennial flow on certain key rivers.

The agro-sector has the potential to, reduce poverty two to four times more effectively than any other sector.  

Conservation of ecosystem goods and services

Water is a crucial ecosystem good. With decreasing water supply exacerbated by climate change, and coupled with increased demand, water conservation policies should be prioritised. For instance, rainwater harvesting – where there is a policy to have water harvesting systems included in building standards – will help countries to adapt to such shortages. In addition, it would foster savings. Tested in Seychelles, rainwater harvesting in schools is not only increasing water supply stability but resulting in savings of up to USD250 in water bills.

Water reclamation examples for large cities, such as Nairobi, for example, can be drawn from Namibia. The capital city of Windhoek, which is surrounded by the Namib and Kalahari deserts, faced low recharge and high evaporation, coupled with a 5% annual population increase. Through enabling policy on water recycling, coupled with the adoption of relevant technologies, the city was able to stabilise supply by exploring direct water reuse. Other countries can adopt these measures.

Aerial view of the Victoria Falls, 900 km west of the capital, Harare, Zimbabwe, 12 February 2016. The falls generate mists that can be seen from more than 20 kilometers away. The mist also sustains a rain forest-like ecosystem adjacent to the falls. The river is typically in full flood during February and March, when as much as 540 million cubic meters of water fall over the edge every single minute. Photo: ANP/EPA/Aaron Ufumeli

Leverage on catalytic sectors to simultaneously build climate resilience and unlock socio-economic opportunities

Poverty and low economic development constricts the ability of countries and communities to respond to such humanitarian crises. But Africa holds significant comparative advantage in clean energy and sustainable agriculture to expedite socio-economic transformation. With targeted policy and investment, the linkage of sustainable agriculture to clean energy-based value addition can create as many as 17 million jobs and catalyse an agro-sector projected to be worth USD1trillion in less than 15 years. The agro-sector has the potential to, reduce poverty two to four times more effectively than any other sector. If this was done, countries would simultaneously meet climate objectives through the carbon offsetting and climate adaptation properties of clean energy and Ecosystem Based Adaptation-driven Agriculture.

It is time to summon a collective effort!

If implemented, climate change actions offer a range of opportunities to master effective short and medium to long-term solutions that can avert the drought that is plaguing certain African countries. Climate change actions can safeguard the destiny of present and future generations who live in those high-risk areas. This is possible if we summon our collective best effort – after all, no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Let us summon the best inside ourselves and avert this looming crisis.

Dr Richard Munang is Africa Climate Change & Development Policy Expert. He tweets as @RichardMunang

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the institution with which he is affiliated.