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Over 100m people in Africa at risk due to climate change, UN warns

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A United Nations report released on Tuesday has warned that over 100 million extremely poor people in Africa are threatened by the accelerating climate change that could melt away the continent’s few glaciers within two decades.

In a report, which comes ahead of the COP 26 Climate Summit in Glasgow, the UN highlighted last year’s Africa’s “disproportionate vulnerability” from food insecurity, poverty, and population displacement.

Speaking on the report, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission, Josefa Leonel Correia Sacko, said, “By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118 million extremely poor people will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa if adequate response measures are not put in place.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, climate change could further lower gross domestic product by up to 3% by 2050. Not only are physical conditions getting worse, but also the number of people being affected is increasing.”

According to the report coordinated by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the extremely poor are those who live on less than $1.90 per day.

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The Secretary-General of WMO, Petteri Taalas, said last year, Africa saw temperatures continue to increase, “accelerating sea-level rise” as well as extreme weather events like floods, landslides, and droughts, all indicators of climate change.

On the disappearing glaciers, Taalas said, “The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely soon, signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system.”

Meanwhile, the report stated that last year, Africa’s landmass and waters warmed more rapidly than the world average, while the 30-year warming trend from 1991-2020 was above that of the 1961-1990 period in all the African regions.

The report noted that although too small to serve as significant water reserves, Africa’s glaciers have high tourism and scientific value, but are retreating at a rate higher than the global average.

“If this continues, it will lead to total deglaciation by the 2040s. Mount Kenya is expected to be deglaciated a decade sooner, which will make it one of the first entire mountain ranges to lose glaciers due to human-induced climate change,” the report stated.

The other glaciers in Africa are on the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

To avoid even higher costs of disaster relief, the WMO urged African countries to invest in “hydrometeorological infrastructure and early warning systems to prepare for escalating high-impact hazardous events.”

It backed broadening access to early warning systems and to information on food prices and weather, including with simple text or voice messages informing farmers when to plant, irrigate or fertilize.

“Rapid implementation of African adaptation strategies will spur economic development and generate more jobs in support of economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report stated.

The report involved the WMO, the African Union Commission, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) through the Africa Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), international and regional scientific organisations, and United Nations agencies.

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