Africa is biggest climate crisis victim, and we can help

Three teenage girls carry buckets of water on a dirt road in Balaka, Malawi, where drought is a problem. Photo: Getty

Feargal O'Connell, CEO of Self Help Africa

thumbnail: Three teenage girls carry buckets of water on a dirt road in Balaka, Malawi, where drought is a problem. Photo: Getty
thumbnail: Feargal O'Connell, CEO of Self Help Africa
Feargal O'Connell

Africa Day commemorates the founding of the Africa Union. Each year, it celebrates the rich culture and diversity of the continent.

Having lived and worked in Africa for over a decade, I have witnessed first-hand its vibrancy, entrepreneurship and enduring optimism. It fills me with so much hope for the future.

However, as temperatures soar and vast swathes of the region endure successive years of drought, we must all accept that the greenhouse gas emissions we are responsible for creating in the west have contribute to the global warming worst affecting people in Africa. The continent itself is responsible for only 4pc of historical emissions.

Human-induced greenhouse gas emissions have warmed today’s climate by 1.2C compared with pre-industrial levels, driving below-average rainfall in eastern Africa, according to a study published last month by the World Weather Attribution group of Scientists.

Only this week, a separate five-year study published by Nature Reviews Earth and the Environment predicted that increased heating of the oceans, which created the El Niño and La Niña climatic patterns, would result in more extreme and frequent droughts, floods, heatwaves, wildfires and severe storms.

Cyclone Freddy, which roared through Malawi and Mozambique last March, was the planet’s longest-lasting tropical storm on record. In eastern Africa, poor seasonal rains for five successive years have left large parts of the region parched and barren. Upwards of 36 million people are currently in need of humanitarian assistance.

This has marked a monumental turnaround for Africa’s fortunes. Less than a decade ago, the continent was viewed as a future global breadbasket. Africa was a region of vast untapped potential and included many of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

While it avoided the huge loss of life experienced elsewhere during the Covid-19 pandemic, the continent continues to experience the economic fall-out from the virus.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development estimates foreign direct investment in Africa fell by 16pc in 2020 as global economic resources were diverted to deal with the coronavirus emergency.

The outbreak of war in Ukraine has caused a further economic squeeze as fuel, food and fertiliser prices rocketed, while blockades on grain shipments from Russia and Ukraine meant African countries that relied on these supplies became proxies in the conflict in eastern Europe.

Compounding the challenges, temperatures in parts of Africa have soared, with the UN Weather Agency reporting increases of at least 1C above pre-industrial levels for the eighth consecutive year. Last year was one of Africa’s hottest on record.

The newly published Global Report on Food Crises found the number of people worldwide facing acute food insecurity – many in Africa – increased by more than one-third last year. An additional 65 million people had been added to the numbers at risk, as the report estimated that 258 million people worldwide were now experiencing acute food insecurity.

The global community cannot shy away from the challenges we face if we are to end global hunger. But there is hope. Innovative steps are being taken to address Africa’s climate challenges, with world leaders pledging to invest upwards of €40bn to support climate-change adaptation in Africa at the annual COP summit in Egypt last year.

In Ireland, through Irish Aid, the Government is making investments to combat the effects of climate change in Africa through bilateral aid and funding to its NGO and multilateral partners.

At Self Help Africa, we too are working in partnership with government ministries, academics and local partners to improve the access farming communities have to weather information. We are also working to help reduce pest and crop disease threats.

Climate adaptation strategies are at the heart of our work.

We must not underestimate the enormity of the climate challenges facing the people of Africa, but we should not let it overwhelm us. As communities across Africa bravely tackle the difficulties facing them, we must summon that same courage to support them.

We should celebrate every Africa Day by ensuring the continent’s vibrancy and entrepreneurship can thrive, even in challenging times.

Feargal O’Connell is CEO of Self Help Africa