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Climate change poses growing threats to vulnerable Africa, UN says

Reuters logo Reuters 26/10/2020 By Maggie Fick
a close up of a hand holding a flower: FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia struggles to suppress desert locust infestation © Reuters/TIKSA NEGERI FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia struggles to suppress desert locust infestation

By Maggie Fick

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Floods, droughts, hotter weather and a desert locust invasion — the impacts of climate change are hitting Africa hard, and worse is ahead for the region’s food supplies, economy and health, the U.N. climate agency said on Monday.

Temperatures have been rising on the continent of 1.2 billion at a comparable rate to other regions, but Africa is exceptionally vulnerable to the shock, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Warming temperatures are slashing crop yields. Agriculture is the backbone of Africa's economy.

“By the middle of this century, major cereal crops grown across Africa will be adversely impacted,” the WMO said in a report.

It projected a reduction in yields of 13% in West and Central Africa, 11% in North Africa and 8% in East and Southern Africa.

African countries are generally low-income and ill-equipped to respond to this and other consequences of climate change, the WMO said.

Natural disasters such as Cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which struck three countries in southern Africa in 2019, underscored the region’s exposure, it said.

The cyclones forced more than two million people from their homes, killed many hundreds, and destroyed a half million hectares of crops in Mozambique.

Meanwhile, in drought-prone areas including West Africa’s Sahel, the number of undernourished people has jumped by 45% since 2012, the organisation said. Climate change is compounding problems such as conflict to drive growing hunger.

In the Horn of Africa, below-average rainfall in 2018 and 2019 led to the worst cereal harvest in Somalia since records began in 1995 and to crop failures in neighbouring Kenya.

Floods followed. Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania recorded at least double their average seasonal rainfall in late 2019.

The rain helped crops grow but also fuelled the locusts that have devoured hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in those countries since January.

For now, the poorest are most affected.

Africa’s overall gross domestic product will fall by between 2.25% and 12.12% as temperatures rise, according to a "long-term impact" study cited in the report. It did not specify a time period for the forecast.

Warmer and wetter weather is also more suitable for insects that transmit dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever.

(Reporting by Maggie Fick)

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