10.1. Introduction to African Region
10.1.1. Previous Syntheses of African Region
Previous assessments (Hulme, 1996; IPCC, 1998) concluded that the African continent
is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because of factors
such as widespread poverty, recurrent droughts, inequitable land distribution,
and overdependence on rainfed agriculture. Timely response actions were considered
to be beyond the economic means of some countries. Deterioration in terms of
trade, inappropriate policies, high population growth rates, and lack of significant
investmentcoupled with a highly variable climatehave made it difficult
for several countries to develop patterns of livelihood that would reduce pressure
on the natural resource base. The reports fell short of assigning relative importance
to these different factors in Africa's capacity to adapt to climate change.
This still is not possible and presents a new challenge for future assessments.
10.1.2. What is Different about Africa?
The main background factors that need to be kept in mind in assessing the vulnerability
of the African region to climate changeparticularly the capacity of African
governments to respond proactively to changes that are largely not of their
making or under their controlare as follows:
- Diversity: The term "African region" is a geographical
convenience only. There is as much diversity of climate, landform, biota,
culture, and economic circumstance within the region as there is between it
and, say, South America or Asia. Very few statements are valid for the entire
continent. The generalities that follow must be read in that context.
- Climate: Africa is predominantly tropical, hot, and dry. There are
small regions of temperate (cool) climates in the extreme south and north
and at high altitudes in between. Parts of west Africa, as well as the western
part of central Africa, are humid throughout the year. A large region north
and south of this humid core is subhumid, with substantial rainfall during
the wet season (or seasons, in the case of east Africa) but almost no rain
during the extended dry season. Poleward from this zone is a large area of
semi-arid climates, which permit marginal cropping during the wet season but
are characterized by extreme unreliability of rainfall and few permanent surface-water
sources. Most of the human population occurs in the subhumid and semi-arid
zones. Corresponding to the tropics of Capricorn and Cancer are the vast desert
regions of the Kalahari-Namib and the Sahara.
- Development Status: Measured by almost any index of human well-being,
Africa contains the poorest and least-developed nations of the world. Per
capita gross domestic product (GDP), life expectancy, infant mortality, and
adult literacy are all in the bottom quartile globally when averaged across
Africa, although individual nations may perform somewhat better on one or
more of these indices. The general weakness of the science and technology
infrastructurein particular, the relatively small numbers of technically
trained professionalslimits the rate at which adaptive research can
be performed or implemented.
- Food Supply: More than half of the African population is rural and
directly dependent on locally grown crops or foods harvested from the immediate
environment. Per capita food production in Africa has been declining over
the past 2 decades, contrary to the global trend. The result is widespread
malnutrition, a recurrent need for emergency food aid, and increasing dependence
on food grown outside the region.
- Dependence on Natural Resources: The formal and informal economies
of most African countries are strongly based on natural resources: Agriculture,
pastoralism, logging, ecotourism, and mining are dominant. Climatic variations
that alter the viability of these activities, for better or for worse, have
very high leverage on the economy.
- Biodiversity: About one-fifth of the world's plants, birds,
and mammals originate or have major areas of present conservation in Africa.
There are major "hot spots" of biodiversity within west, east, central,
and southern Africa.
- Low Capacity for State-Initiated Interventions: Governance structures
typically are underfunded and undercapacity. In many instances they have been
undermined by military coups, despotism, tribalism, corruption, maladministration,
and economic adjustment programs imposed by the international financial community.
Communication from capitals to the remotest provincesby road, rail,
air, or telephoneoften is unreliable and slow. State-centered political
economies in their postcolonial sense are relatively recent over most of Africa,
and their boundaries include wide ethnic diversity within single nations and
cut across previous political territories.
- Disease Burden: Insect-vector diseases such as malaria and tryanosomiasis;
water-borne diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and schistosomiasis; and poverty-related
diseases such as tuberculosis are prevalent in Africa. Water and food security
are closely linked with health. The HIV/AIDS pandemic is placing great strain
on the health infrastructure. Heavy mortalities lead to great loss of productive
- Armed Conflict: There has been chronic armed conflict in several
regions of Africa almost continuously for the past 3 decades. This weakens
the ability of the nations involved to respond to climate change and adds
large refugee populations to the local population, which must be supported
by the environment.
- High External Trade and Aid Dependence: Very little industrial beneficiation
takes place in Africa. High volumes of relatively low-value goods dominate
export economies. In general, there is no strong internal demand (national
or regional) to buffer the economies from changes in global trade. Trade linkages
show the pattern established by the former colonial relationships. Many African
countries have a negative trade balance, particularly as a result of heavy
international debt-servicing burdens, and are chronically dependent on financial
aid from the developed world.