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Impoverished Africa Shudders Under Global Warming Threat

70 percent of Africa's population -- who account for 90 percent of its poor -- work and live in agriculture, more than 95 percent of which is dependent on increasingly erratic seasonal rains, according to the United Nations.
by Beatrice Debut
Nairobi (AFP) Nov 9, 2006
Already faced with recurring cycles of flood, drought and crop failures, Africa and its 800 million people are on collision course with devastation from unchecked global warming, experts say. The world's poorest and least developed continent is also most at risk from climate change, an ironic twist as it produces the least warming-causing greenhouse gases of any of Earth's inhabited continents, they say.

As environmentalists, scientists and government negotiators from 189 nations meet here for a crucial UN climate change conference, threats to Africa have taken the spotlight with urgent calls to avert looming disaster.

Global warming is not only hampering African efforts to deal with endemic poverty and underdevelopment, they threaten to undermine them completely, throwing Africa into a morass of misery, experts say.

"Poverty and climate change are inextricably linked," the relief agency Christian Aid said in a report released ahead of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Nairobi.

"It is the poor of the world who are already suffering disproportionately from the effects of global warming," it said.

And nowhere on the planet is more poor than Africa.

"Africa is the continent probably most vulnerable of all to the negative effects of climate change and the one that faces the greatest challenges to adapt," British-based charity Oxfam said in an October report.

This vulnerability is explained in part by the fact that 70 percent of its population -- who account for 90 percent of its poor -- work and live in agriculture, more than 95 percent of which is dependent on increasingly erratic seasonal rains, according to the United Nations.

As such, global warming and its effect on weather patterns pose multiple problems for Africans.

Central Kenya's once-fertile Mtitoandei region, for example, has been largely without rain for the past 10 years, turning a lush greenbelt into a virtual desert, killing agriculture and reducing the number of farmers from 300 to two in just the span of a decade, according to Oxfam.

The effect may be pronounced in Kenya, host of the UN meeting, but it goes well beyond east Africa, reducing production of staple foods and grains and threatening the entire continent with catastrophe in the coming decades.

"Cereal crop yields will decline by up to five percent by the 2080s ... suffering climate-linked falls," the United Nations said on Sunday, referring to staples in Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Gambia, Ghana, Sudan and Zambia.

And, it said, unless action is taken to help Africa adapt to climate change, some 480 million people in Africa may be facing water security issues by 2025.

But food and water supply are just two of a plethora of worries.

Rising sea levels increasingly threaten Africa's Indian and Atlantic Ocean coasts, from Dar es Salaam in the east to Lagos in the west, with those at risk from coastal flooding rising from one million in 1990 to 70 million by 2080.

Global warming may also exacerbate the spread of killer diseases and ailments, such as malaria and diarrhea, on the continent, according to Christian Aid.

"185 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa alone could die of disease directly attributable to climate change by the end of the century," it said.

On top of those dire warnings, the phenomenon could also stop and reverse the limited development improvements Africa has already made, experts say.

"Climate change restricts development in Africa," the World Wildlife Fund said this week. "Climate change has the potential to undermine, and even undo, improvements in the living standards of ordinary Africans."

Against this gloomy backdrop, the climate meeting in Kenya is looking at ways to help Africa cope.

"Activating the adaptation agenda is critical," conference executive secretary Yvo de Boer said, noting that Africa has a severe shortage of weather and climate change tracking stations that could identify solutions.

Boosting their numbers could be one way to deal, but others are looking to pull the continent up by increasing the number of so-called "Clean Development Mechanism" (CDM) initiatives in Africa.

"Only nine of the almost 400 CDM projects so far registered under the Kyoto Protocol are in Africa," according to the European Union that is spearheading a drive for a more equitable distribution of the scheme.

Set up by the Kyoto Protocol that seeks to reduce developed nations' greenhouse gas emissions, CDMs allow parties to the treaty and private firms to buy emissions credits by funding development projects in poor nations.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Australia, Saudi Take Early Lead For Gaffes At UN Climate Parley
Nairobi (AFP) Nov 9, 2006
Australia and Saudi Arabia have taken the early lead in an unofficial contest for the dubious distinction of committing the worst gaffes at a UN climate conference here. Australia, for claiming it is as vulnerable to global warming as Africa and the Pacific, and Saudi Arabia, for demanding access to climate change relief funds, won the top two spots Thursday in the first "Fossil of the Day" awards run by an unofficial conference newsletter.

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