UN: As Africa’s glaciers melt, millions will face droughts and floods

Africa’s legendary eastern glaciers will disappear in two decades and 118 million poor people will face droughts, floods or extreme heat. These climate changes could also reduce 3% of the continental GDP by the middle of this century, warned the UN climate agency on Tuesday (19).

The latest report on the state of the African continent’s climate by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), in partnership with African Union agencies, reveals a dire picture of the continent’s ability to adapt to increasingly frequent meteorological catastrophes.

According to the data, 2020 was the third warmest year on record in Africa – 0.86 degrees Celsius above the average temperature in the three decades prior to 2010.

This represents a slower warming than high-latitude temperate zones, but the impact is still devastating.

“The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in East Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of irreversible changes in the Earth’s system,” said WMO Secretary General Petteri Taalas in a preface to the report.

He predicted that, at current rates, all three of Africa’s tropical ice fields – Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro, Kenya’s Mount Kenya, and Uganda’s Rwenzoris – would disappear by the 2040s.

Furthermore, “by 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people (living on less than $1.90 a day) will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat if adequate response measures are not implemented.” said African Union Commissioner for Agriculture Josefa Sacko.

Africa, which is responsible for less than 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, has long been expected to be severely affected by climate change.

Its crops are already drought-prone, many of its major cities are along the coast, and widespread poverty makes it harder for people to adapt.

In addition to the worsening drought on a continent heavily dependent on agriculture, extensive flooding was recorded in eastern and western Africa in 2020, the report says. A locust infestation of historic proportions that began a year earlier continued to wreak havoc in the country.

The report estimated that Sub-Saharan Africa would need to spend $30 to $50 billion, or 2-3% of GDP, each year on adaptation to avoid even worse consequences.

An estimated 1.2 million people were displaced by storms and floods in 2020, nearly two and a half times the number who fled their homes because of conflict in the same year.

(Edited by Aurora Ellis, Reuters)

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