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Africa: climate change is already happening

For the second year running, the rainy season in Africa has been marked by floods with disastrous consequences. The increased frequency and intensity of these extreme phenomena is one of the signs of climate change. A cruel injustice for the continent that contributes least to greenhouse gas emissions.



Climate shocks on the increase

In September 2020, the Sahel region of Africa was hit by devastating floods. From west to east, twelve countries, from Senegal to Ethiopia, were drenched by heavy rain. The tributaries of the Niger flooded; 360,000 people had to leave their homes due to Lake Chad overflowing. In Sudan, the floods affected 640,000 people, the Nile reached its highest level since records began a hundred years ago.

This is the second year running that African countries have been subjected to floods of extreme proportions. As always, it is the rainy season from July to September that concentrates most of the annual rainfall. However, over the last two years, the characteristics of this season have changed, with shorter but much more intense rains, concentred in certain areas.

Thus, regarding the Senegal River basin, in 2020 certain measurement stations have shown much higher precipitation levels in comparison to the average (1990-2020) in the northwest of the basin (Kayes and Bakel on the main course of the Senegal River; Kidira) and at Gourbassi on the Feleme, a tributary. On the contrary, others, in the south part, downstream of the Manantali dam, have recorded shortages. “With its 11.5 billion m3 of water stored in the reservoir, Manantali dam, built on the Bafing, the main tributary of the Senegal, helped to attenuate the flood”, declared Tamsir Ndiaye, General Director of the Manantali Energy Management Company, a subsidiary of the OMVS. But, as the records of the different stations show, it was mainly the Falémé, downstream of the dam, that raised the level of the Senegal. In places, the already saturated earth was unable to absorb the new rainfall.


In other areas, these heavy rains followed drought episodes. Too dry, the earth could not absorb the huge quantities of water which therefore leached the topsoil, flooding crops, infrastructures and dwellings. These territories are especially exposed to these floods after having been rapidly transformed over the past few years due to the exodus of the rural population to the towns and cities, haphazard constructions, poorly adapted urbanisation and infrastructures, etc.

In its report published in October 2020, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) took stock of the climate in Africa for 2019. It noted “strong geographic contrasts in the annual precipitations in 2019, with volumes considerably below annual averages in South Africa and to the west of the High Atlas mountain range, and precipitations higher than average were recorded in other geographic areas, especially Central Africa and East Africa”.

This inventory is “characterised by a constant increase in temperature, higher sea levels, associated with extreme meteorological and climatic events”: droughts and floods will intensify according to area, making Africa a continent increasingly affected by climatic impacts. The report emphasises that “the situation is evolving rapidly with, in the long term, an augmentation of climate-related risks”.

The temperature in Africa is now rising at a rate of 0.4°C per decade, whereas the rate of global warming ranges from 0.2° to 0.25° C per decade. This transformation of the climate represents a threat for Africans. Droughts jeopardise agricultural production, food security and generally the means for subsistence, insofar as agriculture employs 60% of Africa’s population. Also, the increase in temperatures and rainfall favour the propagation of dengue, malaria and yellow fever.

The most vulnerable populations are those exposed first

The populations most exposed are often those least responsible, historically, for climate change. This point was raised by Valérie Masson-Delmotte, co-president of Group 1 of the IPCC: “what stands out is that those who are the least responsible, those who have contributed least to greenhouse emissions, who have the least capacity to act, and are the most exposed or most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate.”*

17% of the world’s population live in Africa. However, it is estimated that it is the source of about 3.5% of CO2 emissions.

In its “Atlas of Africa, the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) shows the major economic and political challenges facing this continent in the context of climate change. Damien Navizet, responsible for the climate division, gives the following analysis: “Africa is the continent where urban and demographic growth are strongest: most of the infrastructures have yet to be built, there is a considerable pool of labour and growing food requirements. In a context of limited investment in resources, its capacities for innovation are an asset for taking up the challenge of combining development with the climate, knowing that many of the choices that will shape its development remain to be taken”.

Focus: The OMVS, coordinated management

The Senegal River Development Organisation (OMVS) was founded in 1972 by the countries crossed by the Senegal River: Guinea, Mali, Mauritania and Senegal. It is responsible for the integrated management, development and protection of the river basin’s water resources.

Covering a large surface area, the basin includes highly diverse landscapes, ranging from very wet forest regions in Guinea to desert regions in southern Mauritania. The rainfall of the basin is characterised by considerable spatial, seasonal and interannual variability. Lastly, to manage water resources and mitigate the effects of this variability, the OMVS has built the dam-hydropower plant of Manantali, on the Bafing river (in Mali), which now plays a role of regulation and ensures water for all types of use. Thus, 255,000 ha of land are irrigated in the valley and 800 Gwh of electricity are produced every year. Lastly, it should allow continuous navigation throughout the year, from Saint-Louis to Ambidédi. The OMVS also resorts to nature-based solutions to attenuate the impacts of climate change: maintenance of plant cover and planting to combat soil and river bank erosion. These infrastructures and actions are all the more necessary since by 2050, an alarming situation has been forecast, with in particular 25 to 30% less rainfall, leading to an average reduction of discharges of around 53%.

*Atelier des Fondations 2020 – Centre Français des Fonds et Fondations – 18/11/2020

Crédit photo : BOUREIMA HAMA / AFP 

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