Southern Africa is a climate crisis hot spot and has experienced erratic rainfall and rising temperatures. The recurring droughts and floods are affecting the water, agriculture and energy businesses. They have undermined farmers’ livelihoods, threatening existing crop and livestock systems.
Wits Global Change Institute’s Professor Francois Engelbrecht said while the global average air temperature has risen by nearly 1°C since accurate weather records began a little over a century ago, temperature increases in southern Africa have been double that “making it quite literally, a climate hot spot”.
“From climate modelling based on the Paris Accord, predictions for southern Africa show changes around 5°C to 6°C in the interior, with hotter and drier weather, and life-threatening heatwaves becoming more frequent,” said Engelbrecht.
This is the backdrop against which the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), the USAid Resilient Waters Programme, the Global Commission on Adaptation, the Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security and the World Resources Institute co-hosted the Two Degree Initiative Southern African Challenge this week.
“This is one of nine global challenges led by the consultative group on International Agricultural Research to catalyse science, forge partnerships, and leverage finance in order to drive transformative pathways for a climate-resilient future,” said IWMI South Africa country representative Inga Jacobs-Mata.
Jacobs-Mata said the regional challenge focused on climate-resilient and water-secure landscapes and livelihoods in southern Africa. She said the nine priority countries in this programme were Botswana, eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Jacobs-Mata said the partnership programme aimed to connect science, industry, civil society, policy, and finance to enable us to build a climate-resilient future. The recent Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak had placed further stress and attention on the importance of food, water and energy security affecting workforce, transportation systems, and supply chains from field to fork, she said.
“As governments focused their efforts not only on blocking the transmission of the disease, they also needed to consider how their responses affect food security today and in the future. This crisis is affecting workforces, transportation systems and supply chains – the very basis of how our food gets from field to fork,” said Jacobs-Mata.
She added that if severe illness spread widely in rural areas of southern Africa, where small-scale farmers produce 80% of the food consumed, food production may plummet.
Farmers and rural communities are highly vulnerable to the disease. Many rural communities lack basic infrastructure for sanitation and shortages of clean water challenge the all-critical need for good hygiene, she said.
The World Bank’s senior climate change specialist Nathan Engle also spoke at the workshop and said the 16 member states of the Southern African Development Community were regularly affected by drought and that this was becoming more severe.
Engle said these recurring droughts were coming at a significant human and economic cost. “If you look at the period between 1980 and 2015, droughts have cost the region upwards of $3.4 billion (about R55 billion)and have directly affected over 100 million people.
“The effects of drought are felt across all economic sectors. When drought hits southern Africa, the cities which are the hubs of economic activity run out of water. Power generation declines, cutting industrial productivity and rural livelihoods, which are largely based on subsistence agriculture – they collapse, causing widespread food insecurity,” Engle said.
He added that it was rural women and children who are among the worst affected.
“This is why we think this challenge requires an integrated and cross-sectoral response,” he said.
Jacobs-Mata said the Two Degree Southern African challenge connected science, industry, policy and finance to take the leap forward into a climate-resilient future. She said around 200 stakeholders have already joined in co-creating an agenda for climate-resilient livelihoods and landscapes.
“We aim that by 2030, 10.5 million small-scale agricultural producers and water users in southern Africa would have adapted their agro-ecological systems, livelihoods and landscapes to weather extremes and climate variability.
“That these small-scale agricultural producers and water users become more climate change resilient and are able to put food systems on a low emissions development pathway,” said Jacobs-Mata.
She added that the challenge was a call for partnerships. “We want to establish public-private-society research and development partnerships, leverage existing programmes and build an on-going community of practice on water-food security and climate resilience.”