Climate change: How control of population growth can mitigate drought risks, By Lominda Afedraru

The rapid population growth rate in Africa, if not controlled will be one of the major risks for prolonged drought risks in most communities, warns research report by scientists on climate change and adaptation.

The study cautions that drought risks at national level across Africa and the impacts of climate change will be severe in future due to the rate of rapid population growth in the continent, which is leading to activities that are causing destruction to the environment

The report adds that several population control and family planning strategies, have taken place in the past decades in different countries in Africa; adding that one essential step to achieve this in order to check drought risks, is to raise awareness and inform people about birth control methods.

Experts involved in the study say the projection of hazards indicates that the northern African countries, including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia will be on the increase during the historical period. They however add that countries located on the South such as Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique follow similar patterns but with less intensity.

According to one of the researchers, Dr Hamid Moradkhani of the University of Alabama, Niger’s population in the 2000’s was 10 million and expected to increase to between 150 and 250 million by 2090.

“The study is about drought risks, which is among the costliest natural hazards in many parts of the globe. Droughts severely affect agriculture and the economy of the United States and Europe. But it imposes substantial risks to human lives in Africa. The 2011 drought in the horn of Africa was a recent event that caused famine and loss of human life.  It is the reason the study was carried,” says Dr Hamid.

The report covering the period 2010-20100 was published on April 20, 2019 in the Science of Total Environment – Elsevier.

Other scientists involved in the study include Ali Ahmadalipur, Andrea Castelletti, all from the Centre for Complex Hydro Systems Research, Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, University of Alabama, UK and Nicholas Magliocca from Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering, Politectnico di Milani, Italy.

They warned that the continent will suffer risks of prolonged drought, which in the end, will affect the socioeconomic aspects of African societies and thereby affecting economies, energy and infrastructure, health, land use and water resources.

The experts construed the idea realizing the devastating drought, which occurred in the greater Horn of Africa in 2011 causing famine and loss of thousands of human lives.

Countries in Africa’s Northern hemisphere will suffer most considering the limited economic and natural resources and the arid climate of the region, which will lead to substantial drought risks.

The figure shows that mean drought extent over Africa is about 7% in the historical period and it increases to about 25% by late 21st century.

“The study was a comprehensive assessment of drought risks where we used different models and datasets to investigate the impacts of climate change and socioeconomic factors. We used 10 different climate models to predict the expected future rainfall and water resources decades to come. We were able to provide projection of drought considering different conditions,” said Dr Ali Ahmadalipur, a Postdoctoral Research Associate

“We used various population projections for each African country to understand how many people will be affected by the impact of drought in each year for each country,” he added.

The scientists used a rigorous framework, which is implemented to quantify drought vulnerability considering various sectors including multi-model and multi-scenario analysis to quantify drought hazard using an ensemble of 10 regional climate models and a multi-scalar drought index.

Drought risk was assessed in each country looking at climate emission pathways, population scenarios and vulnerability where unassociated uncertainties were characterized.

Cows grazing on a drought-hit field

The results show that drought risk is expected to increase across Africa with varied rates depending on the population growth.

“Although Northern African countries indicate aggravating drought hazard, the risk ratio is highest in central African countries as a consequence of vulnerability and population rise in that region. Results indicate that if no climate change adaptation is implemented, unprecedented drought hazard and risk will occur decades earlier and controlling population growth is found to be imperative for mitigating drought risk in Africa,” the report reads in part.

The experts cautioned that despite increasing concerns about the escalating impacts of droughts on food, energy and water resources, more attention has been given to studying drought hazard rather than providing consistent drought risk assessment frameworks.

Drought increasing scenario

The figure shows that mean drought extent over Africa is about 7% in the historical period and it increases to about 25% by late 21st century.

The projection of hazards indicates that in general, the northern African countries Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia will have increasing Hazard Index during the historical period. The countries located at southern parts of Africa, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, and Mozambique follow similar patterns but with less intensity.

On the contrary the western African countries below the Sahel region, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone do not indicate any significant changes. The worst drought hazard conditions are expected to happen in Egypt and Libya.

Independent expert take

Lawrence Songa a legislator in Uganda’s Parliament chairing the committee of Environmental and Natural Resource and Chair of the Parliamentary Forum on Climate change is in agreement with the scientists. He argues that African countries have low budgets to address challenges of drought risks.

“In Uganda we have the Ministry of Disaster preparedness which tends to respond to disaster instead of prior preparedness. The same applies to all African countries. Drought risks are increasing yet Africa relies on rain fed Agriculture,” he notes.

Adding that Africa’s growing population is due to traditional believes of having quantity of humans rather than quality resource persons.

Cows being fed with water

Besides human settlement tends to crowd in fertile lands with forest cover yet humans can settle in semi – arid area as long as necessary services are offered to them.

He urged African governments to address settlement partners, educate and create awareness about families embracing various family planning methods for population reduction.

“Most African countries have policies on family planning education which must be implemented to avoid risks of drought in future. Countries can also embark on tree planting initiative for rehabilitation of dilapidated environment through human activity,”

According a December 19, 2018 publication by scientists from South Africa in Quartz, namely Mark New and Piotr Wolsk Univsersity of Cape and Freidrick Otto University of Oxford, it is stated that between 2015 and 2017 South Africa’s Western Cape experienced lowest rainfall due to increasing drought and climate change events causing water shortage

The report warned that without adaptation this is expected to occur once every 50 years.

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