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HEAT – Climate science must stop ignoring Southern Africa

Climate Science Has a Blind Spot When it Comes to Heat Waves in Southern Africa 

The lack of detailed information on extreme heat impacts hinders disaster response and preparedness.


Centered in the equatorial tropics, Africa is the world’s hottest continent, and millions of people there are facing a growing threat from deadly heat waves. But no one knows how many people have died or been seriously affected in other ways by extreme heat because the impacts have been poorly tracked.

Coordinated reporting is lacking and, at the global level, research and tracking of the impacts of climate change are biased toward developed countries, scientists concluded in a new study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Africa is warming faster than the global average, and the lack of data is a roadblock to effective disaster preparation, assessment of vulnerability and planning for climate resilience, said co-author Friederike Otto, acting director of the University of Oxford Environmental Change Institute. She said she noticed the information gap when she reviewed the international disasters database (EM-DAT), for another recent study on extreme weather events in lower income countries. ………

Temperatures in southern Africa, with a population of 1.1 billion, have increased steadily over the last 70 years. Since 1990, the continent’s average temperature has increased at a rate of 0.65 degrees Fahrenheit per decade.

Because the region is so warm already, it doesn’t take much for temperatures to reach life-threatening levels. Research shows that heat waves have been increasing since at least 2000. The study shows obstacles faced by the least developed countries in Sub-Saharan Africa as they try to detect heat waves and their impacts, said Izidine Pinto, a climate researcher at the University of Cape Town who was not involved in the study. …..

Climate Justice

“Heat waves are one of the most deadly impacts of human-caused global warming in terms of lives,” Otto said. “It would be really important to highlight that in Africa.” 

She said the issue falls squarely into the realm of climate justice. One of the key obstacles to compiling useful heat wave data in southern Africa is weak governance in some countries, which can be traced back to a colonial legacy that destroyed and disempowered local cultures.

Developing countries in southern Africa contribute very little to human-caused warming in terms of emissions compared to the wealthy nations of North America, Europe and Asia, but they are among the hardest hit by its impacts. Per capita annual emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa are about 0.849 tons per person, according to the World Bank, compared to nine tons in Germany and 16 tons per capita annually in the United States………..

Finding Solutions

Otto said that researchers need to change the way climate science is done and who is doing it……….

Successful pilot projects are under way in Ghana and Gambia, where collaborations between local researchers, hospitals and epidemiologists are helping identify the direct health impacts of extreme heat, she said. That information can be combined with data on heat-related power outages and transport disruptions to further improve heatwave identification in sub-Saharan Africa.

In addition, more analysis of historical climate data from extreme heat periods is also needed, Otto wrote in a blog post for Carbon Brief accompanying the release of her new paper. That information combined with other data would help build effective early warning systems to save lives, Otto said.

“There is early warning on droughts, and other kinds of extremes, and they have improved a lot, but not really on heat wave warnings,” she added.

People in Africa are certainly aware of the growing number of heatwaves on the continent, said Mohamed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a Nairobi-based climate and energy think tank. “But if they are not being recorded by scientists it will be much harder for African voices to be heard in the climate debate.”

July 14, 2020 - Posted by | AFRICA, climate change

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