Climate change impacts and human settlements in Africa: Prospects for adaptation

  • Magadza C
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Climate change impacts on African human settlements arise from a number of climate change-related causes, notably sea level changes, impacts on water resources, extreme weather events, food security, increased health risks from vector borne diseases, and temperature-related morbidity in urban environments. Some coastlines and river deltas of Africa have densely populated low-lying areas, which would be affected by a rise in sea level. Other coastal settlements will be subjected to increased coastal erosion. Recent flooding in East Africa highlighted the vulnerability of flood plain settlements and the need to develop adaptive strategies for extreme weather events management and mitigation. In the semi arid and arid zones many settlements are associated with inland drainage water sources. Increases in drought will enhance water supply related vulnerabilities. Inter-basin and international water transfers raise the need for adequate legal frameworks that ensure equity among participating nations. Similarly, water supply and irrigation reservoirs in seasonal river catchments might fail, leading to poor sanitation in urban areas as well as food shortage. Hydroelectric power generation could be restricted in drought periods, and where it is a major contributor to the energy budget, reduced power generation could lead to a multiplicity of other impacts. States are advised to develop other sources of renewable energy. Temperature changes will lead to altered distribution of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, making settlements currently free of vector borne diseases vulnerable. Rapid breeding of the housefly could create a menace associated with enteric disorders, especially in conditions of poor sanitation. The dry savannahs of Africa are projected as possible future food deficit areas. Recurrent crop failures would lead to transmigration into urban areas. Pastoralists are likely to undertake more trans-boundary migrations and probably come into conflict with settled communities. Adaptive measures will involve methods of coastal defences (where applicable), a critical review of the energy sector, both regionally and nationally, a rigorous adherence to city hygiene procedures, an informed agricultural industry that is capable of adapting to changing climate in terms of cropping strategies, and innovations in environment design to maximise human comfort at minimum energy expenditure. In the savannah and arid areas water resource management systems will be needed to optimise water resource use and interstate co-operation where such resources are shared. Climate change issues discussed here raise the need for state support for more research and education in impacts of climate change on human settlements in Africa.

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  • C. H D Magadza

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