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FEATURE: lessons of the IPCC SREX report for Africa


CDKN’s Sam Bickersteth and Lisa McNamara report from the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia  outreach event for the IPCC’s ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ (SREX), 9-10 May 2012.

The IPCC’s SREX report is the result of evidence gathered and collated by 220 scientists across a range of disciplines.  Its headlines around the expected increase in severity and frequency of extreme events are highly relevant for Africa.  There is high confidence that there will be a tenfold increase in frequency of extremely hot days globally and for some regions such as East Africa. Equally, there is a high level of scientific confidence for increased frequency of extreme precipitation.

The implications of moving to a ‘new normal’ of more extreme climatic events are substantial for business, government and communities and this was well understood by policy makers, practitioners and scientists at the launch of the paper in Addis Ababa on 9 May.

Are disasters affecting Africa’s economic development?

Losses from climate-related disasters are doubling every 12 years and, importantly, there is an expectation that fatality rates and economic losses as proportion of GDP will be higher in developing countries.  The CDKN report (2012)  on Tackling Exposure: placing disaster risk management at the heart of national and economic and fiscal policy’ highlights that economic exposure to disasters is increasing faster than per capita GDP and that responding to climate extremes is an imperative for economic and human development in Africa, and other middle and low income countries around the world.   Africa is at risk due to high levels of vulnerability and reliance on climate sensitive economic activities, such as agriculture; in addition to vulnerable coastal cities and vulnerable natural nresource based industry such as mining (too much and too little water can close mines).

Conservative estimates show that African economies could be facing losses of at least 1–2% of GDP, or US$10–20 billion, annually (van Aalst et al, 2007) though some sectors will be much more exposed (SEI, 2009).  However it is likely to be higher as much economic activity is uncosted, little is insured and there are many intangible losses.  On top of the direct losses such as loss in work days from heat exposure, there are indirect impacts of climate change such higher food prices.

Moving from managing crisis to managing risk

The challenge highlighted in the launch was the need to move from managing crisis to managing risk and developing the institutions and mechanisms to enable this to happen.  Risk transfer mechanisms that go beyond insurance such as micro finance and regional risk sharing pools (see Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility) will require new public and private partnerships.  The instructive Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation (HARITA) project in Ethiopia, presented at the launch by IPCC Lead Author Reinhard Mechler, provides a novel example where farmers use their own labour to pay for insurance. Smallholder farmers in the drought-prone northern state of Tigray receive insurance for seasonal droughts in exchange for working on projects to improve climate resilience, such as irrigation or soil management. These insurance pay outs are then triggered automatically when rainfall drops below a certain threshold. The project involves many public and private players including farmers, local relief society, insurers, reinsurers, a rural bank, a university, government and donors.

Regional institutions such as the African Union (AU)  and African Development Bank (AfDB) can play a role but much of the change will need to be driven by national level policy, resource and action cutting across current institutional and sectoral boundaries. The response cannot be left to either the Ministries of Environment or the Disaster Risk Agencies but it must be a combination of these and others.

Throughout the launch, participants raised the issue of the capacity and voice of African scientists to contribute to the IPCC reports  – and their application at the national level.  There is a chronic shortage of resources in post-graduate higher education (reportedly just $200 for each Masters student in Ethiopia) which hampers ability to conduct and publish peer reviewed research. Hence future efforts need to address capacity and support young researchers and scientists.

Communication of climate risk to policy makers, communities and others at local, national and regional levels also emerged as a key issue. A lively discussion in the policy and practice forum took place about effective community-based early warning systems (EWS) for floods and droughts, and the need to empower community management and leadership structures for early warning dissemination. Youcef Ait Chellouche, Deputy Regional Coordinator for Africa for United Nations Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), spoke about UNISDR’s the work to improve EWS for African communities working with the African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD). He highlighted that in many cases, poorer households will be wary of leaving their homes and possessions during flood evacuations and
trusted communicators are essential in this instance.

A consistent message from participants, echoing outcomes from other outreach IPCC SREX events around the world, is the need to bridge the gaps between climate change, DRM, and the economic and social development agendas. Both the SREX meeting and the World Economic Forum on Africa were held in Addis Ababa over the same period. At WEF Africa, Donald Kaberuka, President of AfDB, announced that Africa has experienced its best decade of the past 50 years. As African business and government leaders gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss the future of African economic growth and transformation, participants at the SREX meeting engaged on how climate extremes and disasters may affect Africa’s growing economic prosperity. Bringing climate change disaster planning into the boardroom, and firmly onto agendas of meetings such as the WEF, will remain an integral part of taking forward SREX findings.

CDKN’s latest report–launched at WEF Africa –outlines a range of tools and practical examples for integrating DRM into economic and fiscal policy, including related to risk assessment, risk financing options, sector-level mainstreaming and legislation. Read ‘Tackling Exposure: placing disaster risk management at the heart of national and economic and fiscal policy’here.

Read more about the event in Addis Ababa here.

Read about the other regional outreach events for the IPCC SREX report on www.cdkn.org/srex.

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