FEATURE: Postcard from Dakar – insights from the IPCC SREX outreach event
ENDA’s Moussa Na Abou Mamouda reports from the Dakar, Senegal outreach event for the IPCC’s ‘Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation’ (SREX), 18-19 June 2012.
The management of climate risk and extreme events in West Africa is still fraught with uncertainties. Even in cases where information is available, disaster risk management still requires coordinated policy actions involving all stakeholder groups.
Many climate risk factors in West Africa are linked with rainfall variability, sea level rise, and ecosystem degradation. Population growth, poverty and minimal health care are additional stressors to climate-related vulnerability. Experts at the IPCC SREX outreach event in Dakar confirmed these assertions. The meeting brought together over 90 participants from 11 countries across West Africa to discuss the implications of the SREX report for the region. The report was compiled over two years by 220 authors across disciplines and is the most comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on current and future disaster risk produced to date.
How are climate extremes affecting West Africa today?
Sobering examples were shared of the consequences of climate extremes in West Africa. Dr Eno Deborah Anwana of the Regional Institute for Population Studies (RIPS) at the University of Ghana, highlighted that a 2007 flood in Ghana resulted in a loss of 4,500 homes, 10,000 displaced persons and the collapse of 199 classrooms. In Senegal, heavy rains in 2008 led to the loss of more than 500,000 domestic animals and economic damages totalling approximately 11 billion CFA francs (about 21 million USD).
Urban settlements are also at risk. In Senegal, the city of Saint Louis is considered highly vulnerable to flooding from heavy rains and sea level rise. Moussa Bala Fofana, the Technical Adviser for the Mayor of Saint Louis, reported that two-thirds of the city is settled on a flood-prone area. Uncertainties remain on the magnitude and occurrence of floods in Saint Louis and the impacts of urbanization and land-use change on flood risk. The city needs a scientific, evidence-based disaster risk reduction strategy to proactively mitigate the impacts of extreme events and avoid severe damage.
Another major concern in West Africa is food security. Professor Amadou Gaye highlighted that rainfall has been decreasing in the region since the 1970s. According to Mamadou Bithie, the Director of Oxfam West Africa, more than 10 million people are at risk from food shortages in the region in 2012; 700,000 in Mauritania, 2.9 million in Mali, 6 million in Niger and 2 million in Burkina Faso. Droughts in the 1970s led to investment which addressed either the urgent and immediate needs (such as food supply, micro credit, and cash-for-work or food-for-work initiatives) or to prevent future crisis (irrigation, technology, research). Thus, although there is a good understanding of the key drivers of food insecurity in the Sahel, definitive solutions to the problem are still missing. Youcef Ait Chellouche, the Deputy Regional Coordinator of the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) in Africa, highlighted the need to better understand the drought-survival strategies of Sahel communities to build future resilience. A recent case study on ‘Community-led actions against food insecurity in Maradi district, Niger’ provides some insight on community responses relevant for other countries in the Sahel.
The need for more knowledge
The crucial need for improved knowledge on disaster risk emerged often in discussions. A better understanding is needed of the complexity of disaster issues, disaster risk reduction (DRR) frameworks and social, economic and environmental benefits from proactive integration of risk reduction into all aspects of planning and development. The Africa Regional Strategy for Disaster Risk Reduction and guidelines for mainstreaming provide a good basis from which to work.
Participants called for future IPCC Special Reports to focus on tested and tailored tools for disaster and risk management to support practitioners, and decision-makers on DRR. For example, Attah Benson, the Organizational Coordinator at the Community Emergency Response Initiative (CERI) in Nigeria, suggested that experts should make recommendations on construction codes in West Africa based on the current and future extreme events and disasters predicted in the region.
Climate experts at the event agreed that temperature trends could easily be predicted. However, high uncertainty for future rainfall predictions in Africa needs to be addressed. SREX can give global and regional pictures of expected impacts. National governments, however, should invest additional resources to investigate local impacts and mainstream the generated knowledge into programmes and policies. Participants emphasised that building capacity and developing local expertise is a major pre-requisite of addressing uncertainty. In addition, regionally-based knowledge centres need to be supported by African policymakers and replicated in other parts of the continent such as RIPS which was established by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) as one of the seven African Adaptation Research Centres of Excellence.
Mohamed Yahya Ould Mohamed Mahmoud, the Director of ARGHYMET, said that regional intergovernmental institutions like AGRHYMET (a regional centre composed of nine West African member states to achieve food security and increased agricultural production) or the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD) (a weather and climate centre with continental reach) should be supported to play their primary role of “transforming the weather, the climate and the environment into assets for sustainable development”. The AGRHYMET Regional Centre was established in 1974 as a specialized institute of the Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) composed of nine member States (Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Chad, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal). Knowledge networks like CDKN or AfricaAdapt can play an important role.
The role of decision-makers and policy-makers
It is unfortunate that scientists and politicians in West Africa very often have different agendas and this situation makes DRR more difficult to manage. The recent 2005 famine in Niger for instance, would have been less harmful if policy makers had listened to experts. Moreover, while the experts were talking about a famine, policy makers preferred to minimise the problem and rather talked about temporary food crisis. DRR policies exist in most African countries- the application and permanent enforcement of these policies is what’s missing.
Insurance is one of the burden-sharing options with immediate impact on the people affected by a disaster. Unfortunately, most of the poor in West Africa cannot afford insurance. They rely on self-aid and support from social networks at the community level. Our governments need to find alternative options for the poor to face disasters and climate risks, should the community coping mechanisms fail. Disaster risk preparedness should then start with poverty alleviation.
Moussa Bala Fofana highlighted decentralised cooperation as an opportunity to get external support and deal with current and future disasters and climate risks in Saint Louis. However, national governments should take a leading role in raising public awareness on disaster risks and ways to reduce vulnerability and risks at a local level.
A message from the youth
It is widely recognised that youth and women are particularly vulnerable in the event of a disaster. Participants raised the need for focusing future IPCC special reports on the climate-gender-youth-health nexus.
A stirring message from the Koccbarm youth group on Day 1 of the meeting set the tone for discussions:
Experts who know that they know should take lead on action;
Experts who know that they don’t know should do more research;
Experts who don’t know that they know should be empowered;
Experts who don’t know that they don’t know should be given more capacity building;
We need more light from the IPCC;
The light of the 220 IPCC candles;
The 220 IPCC authors;
To inform decision making;
For rapid action.
The image is courtesy of World Bank photo library.
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