Eastern Africa has a large variety of complex topographical features that play an important role in modulating the global climate; these include variations in its surface terrain and a large inland moisture source in the Congo basin and inland lakes. The processes that influence climate over Eastern Africa include the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), Intra-Seasonal Oscillations (MJO), Quasi-Biennial Oscillations (QBO), tropical cyclones, jet streams, subtropical anticyclones, and other anomalies over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Others factors include disturbances from the mid-latitudes, El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), easterly waves, equatorial westerlies, mesoscale circulations and monsoon circulation.
Drought and floods are frequent in Eastern Africa, particularly affecting areas of southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia and eastern Kenya. Rainfall is the most important climatic factor for many African countries and its inter-annual variability has a major impact on national economies. Climatic variability over the past millennium has resulted in extended periods of drought followed by periods of heavy rainfall. This has resulted in major disasters: alternating flooding and droughts are an important reason for food insecurity. In 2003, Ethiopia’s food aid requirements of 1.34 million tonnes amounted to over half of that for Eastern Africa’s requirements.
Sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions include fuel combustion in transport, household biomass use, animal waste and rice cultivation. There are other minor sources such as industrial fuel combustion. The National Communications to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are the most authoritative statements by Eastern African governments on climate change and related impacts on their economies. The contribution by the sub-region to global GHG concentrations still remains unquantified. The National Communications to UNFCCC, however, serve to provide a baseline for future studies.
Increasingly, there are reports pointing to the emerging importance of dust as a key factor in the subregion’s climate variability and change. Dust storms over the eastern plains of Somalia, northeast Kenya, northern Sudan and Ethiopia are common phenomena through most of the year. Dust is one of the least understood components of the Earth’s atmosphere and it may have a greater importance for climate change than has been realized up until now. As dust deposits increase, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could change, which in turn would affect temperatures and rainfall.
Progress has been made in assessing the vulnerability of local communities and ecosystems to climate change. For instance, the Assessment of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change (AIACC) study shows that climate change has altered the microclimates in the highlands. Analysis of time-series data from 1978 to 1999 reveals that the maximum and minimum temperatures have changed, with significant increases generally recorded at all sites. Analysis of data over the period 1961-2001 also reveals decreasing rainfall. The temperature changes have been more pronounced at the higher altitudes than in the lowlands with, for example, temperatures in the Kabale district of Uganda increasing dramatically by 2ºC in the last three decades.
The temperature increases in the eastern highlands have resulted in an increased range for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. There have been increasing malaria epidemics in the highland communities. Communities living at altitudes above 1,100 meters are more vulnerable to malaria epidemics due to lack of immunity.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of potentially disastrous global warming effects on agriculture and water supplies in tropical and sub-tropical Africa. Even a small increase in temperature will mean a decrease in agricultural production. There is gradual yet dramatic disappearance of glaciers on the Ruwenzoris in Uganda and Mt Kenya. The ice cap on Mt Kenya has shrunk by 40 percent since 1963, and a number of seasonal rivers that used to flow from atop the mountain to the surrounding areas have since dried up. The snow and glaciers act as water towers and thus towns and farming communities around the mountains will be affected.
Eastern Africa has a very high rate of urbanization. In 1980, the urban population was just over 10 million people and by 2005 it had reached 37.14 million. Increased activities in key economic sectors are contributing significantly to air pollution. Although the manufacturing sector is responsible for part of the pollution, the transportation sector is increasingly being recognized as the highest polluter, emitting atmospheric reactive gases and other toxic chemicals. These gases, including sulfur, are products of combustion of diesel and gasoline.
There are also concerns on the contribution of household emissions to the GHG load. In Kenya, for example, charcoal production and consumption are believed to be emitting more GHGs (mainly carbon dioxide [CO2], methane [CH4] and nitrogen oxides [NOx]) than the industry and transport sectors combined. The use of traditional kilns in the charcoal production process, characterized by low efficiencies in the range 8-15 percent, has been found to be responsible for about 4 percent of the global biomass burning-derived CH4 emissions and 0.12 percent of all known sources. Besides emission of GHGs, biofuel production and consumption has other important impacts—they contribute to acute respiratory infections (ARI) in children under 5 through emissions of particulate matter (PM), polycyclic aromatc hydrocarbons (PAHs) and CO2.
Though not to the same level, African governments have demonstrated commitment to conserving the atmosphere through regional and international initiatives. They have all ratified the UNFCCC and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – this being a key indicator of commitment in its own right. Some have also ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in February 2005.
There are a number of initiatives focused on sustaining atmospheric resources, including the New Partnership for Africa’s Development-Environmental Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP) Programme 5: combating climate change; the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) defined under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol, which provides opportunities for mitigating climate change through energy conservation and emission reduction initiatives; the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) driven by the UNFCCC process which provides opportunities for the least developed countries (LDCs) to develop their agenda for adaptation to climate change; and the World Bank’s Clean Air Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), which was launched in 1998 as a response to deteriorating air quality attributed mainly to increased traffic and the changing landscape of African cities as a result of rapid urbanization.
With respect to capacity-building for monitoring, prediction and early warning, a World Meteorological Organization (WMO)-supported Drought Monitoring Centre (WMO-DMC) has been established in Nairobi, Kenya, but unfortunately this is under-utilized. Climatic monitoring and skillful seasonal climate prediction is crucial for proper planning and management of all climate-sensitive activities including agriculture, water resources and hydroelectric power generation. A few universities also offer meteorology studies leading to both graduate and postgraduate degrees. These need to be revised to take into consideration the identified concerns. The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) could play a key role in ensuring cross-border learning and information exchange at the universities.
The greatest threat to the success of interventions to protect the atmosphere is low funding for government programs and projects. This is mainly due to low budgetary allocations by governments in the sub-regions and low interest by donors on the subject, who instead are interested in HIV/AIDS, etc. Most national policies remain weak mainly on elements of regional cooperation, technology transfer, and cross-border training to optimize sub-regional opportunities. Most countries lack appropriate mechanisms for domesticating key multilateral environmental agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. This is also attributed to weak national and regional institutions – weak in terms of programmatic focus, funding levels and overall organizational structures. Lastly, atmosphere-related issues rarely rank high on any country’s political agenda compared to health or food security issues. The natural links between drought and poverty or food insecurity, and air pollution and human health, for instance, have not been made clear to politicians and other critical decision-makers. They therefore remain of low priority on the political agenda.
- Atheru, Z. K. K. and Mutai, C., 2002. Climate variability in Eastern Africa; Its causes and relationship with ENSO.
- ECA, 2005a. African Regional Implementation Review for the 14th Session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD-14)-Report on Climate Change. Economic Commission for Africa.
- ECA, 2005b. Economic Report on Africa 2005: Meeting the Challenges of Unemployment and Poverty in Africa. Economic Commission for Africa, Addis Ababa.
- Kituyi, E., 2000. Atmospheric Emission Budgets for Domestic Biomass Burning in Kenya. PhD Thesis. University of Nairobi, Nairobi.
- Republic of Kenya, 2002. National Energy Policy Draft. Ministry of Energy, Nairobi.
- RGS, 2004. Dust storms to choke global environment. Royal Geographical Society. Media Release by the Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers, 19 August.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
- Wandiga, S. O., et al. (Forthcoming). "Vulnerability to Climate Induced Highland Malaria In East Africa." AF91 Synthesis Paper - submitted to Climate Change.
- WRI, 2005. EarthTrends: The Environmental Information Portal. World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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