Since ages, mankind has been influenced by the sheer scale and magnitude of natural disasters. These disasters have time and again exposed human weaknesses in understanding their dynamics, ascertain with a fair degree of certainty on ‘when’ they would occur and determine the underlying factors responsible for their occurrence. Myths, doubts, speculation, and denial – all of them can co-exist in a global society but they need to respect or support the laws of Nature.
While it could have been satisfying to express our helplessness in meeting such environmental challenges as if there was no linkage to human activity, it is actually not so. Science has come up with evidences that tell us that human activity is partly responsible for most of the environmental disasters occurring in recent times.
There is a significant paradigm shift in how these terrible climate change disasters are taking shape that has serious repercussions for our very existence. We, at ThinktoSustain.com analyse and rank the major climate change disasters of 2012.
1. Coping with Food Crisis in Sahel Region of Africa
One of the grueling challenges for poor countries worldwide is to cope with the impacts of climate change. Continuous drought in Sahel region of west Africa has led to loss in agricultural productivity in the region, which has caused spike in food prices. Shortage of natural resources is leading to forced migration accentuating the problems for affected communities.
The Sahel is a transitional zone between the arid Sahara and the tropical green forest that borders the maritime coast. It spans an area of approximately 5.7 million square kilometers and is home to about 58 million people.
The Sahel also represents a geo-political entity with nine countries forming a group – Permanent Interstates Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). The countries that fall in this region are – Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, and Eritrea. These nations share similar social and cultural values.
The Sahel is highly vulnerable to climate change due to its geographic location at the southern edge of the Sahara desert and the strong dependence of its population on rain-fed agriculture and livestock.
Severe drought in 2011 had paralyzed this region as people were left with no economic or social support to sustain themselves. As the fertile areas of the Sahel region continue to dry up and become sand, the only alternative available to the mostly nomadic people of the region is to migrate to the South in search of water and land on which they can graze their cattle.
Climate change has the potential to cause mass migration and can make matters worse if there is historic animosity between the affected and the ‘better-placed’ communities. Age old conflict between northern populations, who are typically more “arabized” pastoralists, and southern populations, who more resemble sub-Saharan African populations, is well known.
According to “The Africa Human Development Report 2012: Towards a Food Secure Future” released by UNDP in May, with one in four of its 856 million people undernourished, sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s most food insecure region. More than 15 million people are at risk and an equal number in the Horn of Africa remain vulnerable after 2011 food crisis in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
Much of 2012 efforts were to mobilize resources to help the Sahel region cope with climate change impacts.
Another report, “Livelihood Security: Climate Change, Migration and Conflict in the Sahel” published by UNEP in December, identifies 19 “climate hotspots” where climatic changes have been the most severe and which warrant focused adaptation planning and other follow-up activities. Many of the hotspots are in the central part of the Sahel, in Niger, Burkina Faso, northern and coastal Ghana, as well as northern Togo, Benin and Nigeria.
Common to these hotspots is that they have been most heavily affected by flooding, although they have also experienced slow-onset changes, in particular in temperature and the occurrence of drought, and these varying conditions have affected the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on natural resources.
The study has found that the impacts of such changing climatic conditions on the availability of natural resources, combined with factors such as population growth and weak governance, have led to greater competition over scarce resources and to changing migration patterns in the region.
The Sahel region presents a grim picture of climate reality, which unfortunately is poised to continue in 2013 also.