The climate crisis is code red for humanity, but especially so for the African continent.
Increasing temperatures, a surge in natural disasters, locust invasions, floods, and drought. It sounds like the stuff of nightmares. But these extreme events are happening right now as a direct result of climate change and they’re threatening all areas of life across Africa.
Although climate change is affecting the whole continent, it’s not affecting all regions in the same way. While millions of people are affected by flooding each year in Nigeria, rising temperatures in North Africa are leading to drought, which is devastating for farmers in the region.
Perhaps the most unfair fact about the entire situation is that Africa is responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions — a minuscule proportion when you consider that the richest 10% of the world’s population are responsible for over half of carbon emissions. Yet, Africa is the most vulnerable region in the world to the changing climate, according to the UN’s Environment Programme.
Wealthier nations — which have contributed the most to climate change — have got to step up to support African countries in adapting to and planning for climate change, as well as paying for the loss and damage it’s already incurred. Are they doing it? The short answer is: no.
Over 12 years ago, the world’s richest countries promised to deliver $100 billion every year from 2020 to 2025 to climate finance (money to help lower-income countries most affected by climate change adapt to its effects). But they've fallen short of their pledges.
Here are seven more devastating facts about how climate change is impacting Africa the hardest.
1. Almost a Quarter of a Billion Africans Will Face Water Scarcity by 2025
A herder boy who looks after livestock quenches his thirst from a water point during a drought, in the desert near Dertu, Wajir County, Kenya on Oct. 24, 2021.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 3 people across Africa already face water scarcity. But by 2025, climate change could have made it even worse, with predictions that close to 230 million Africans will be facing water scarcity, and up to 460 million will be living in water-stressed areas.
2. 5 of the 10 Countries Most Impacted by Climate Change Are in Africa
Yel Aguer Deng walks through water from his compound to the road in Northern Bahr el Ghazal State, South Sudan, Oct. 20, 2021. The worst flooding that parts of South Sudan have seen in 60 years now surrounds his home of mud and grass.
According to the 2021 Global Climate Risk Index, which looks at the real-world impacts of climate change over the last year and the last 20 years, five of the 10 countries most affected by climate change in 2019 were in Africa.
Those five countries were: Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, South Sudan, and Niger.
3. Tropical Storms in Southern Africa Displaced Half a Million People in Just 3 Months This Year
People make their way along a damaged section of a road in Nampula Province, Mozambique, March 12, 2022. Officials in Mozambique say that Cyclone Gombe has flooded large areas of northern and central Mozambique, killing more than 10 people.
Warming of the oceans’ surfaces from climate change is leading to more intense tropical cyclones— not to be confused with typhoons or hurricanes.Thesepowerful storms with their gale-force winds cause floods, landslides, damage to homes and buildings, and even kill people.
Africa, particularly southern Africa, has been hit by a host of cyclones already this year.
In January 2022, tropical storm Ana caused devastation across Madagascar, Malawi, and Mozambique. Tens of thousands of homes were turned into rubble, and hundreds of thousands had to flee to safety.
Just under two weeks later, in February, before the country had even had time to recover, cyclones Batsirai and Emnati hit Madagascar, leading to more death and destruction. Batsirai knocked power grids out, destroyed trees, and displaced at least 112,000 people. To the region’s horror, this wasn’t to be the last of it.
A month later, in March, tropical storm Gombe’s 120mph winds ravaged northern Mozambique and Malawi. And right now, South Africa is responding to devastating floods that swept KwaZulu-Natal province last week — killing hundreds of people and prompting the government o declare a national state of disaster.
For a number of reasons including a lack of high-quality infrastructure and adaptation strategies, extreme weather events are devastating to lower-income nations and hit the poorest within those nations (who are most likely to be living in poorly constructed shelters in the first place) the hardest.
4. 46 Million People Don’t Have Access to Enough Food in the Horn of Africa & Sahel Region
Somali refugees wait outside a UNHCR processing center at the Ifo refugee camp near Dadaab, eastern Kenya on Aug. 5, 2011. Climate change contributed to low rain levels in East Africa in 2011, making global warming one of the causes of Somalia's famine.
The number of people living with severe hunger every day in the Horn of Africa is about 13 million, according to the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).
The reason? The region is drying up. Three consecutive failed rainy seasons in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia have decimated crops and caused huge numbers of livestock to die. Many families have been forced to leave their homes in search of fertile lands and humanitarian assistance to help them survive.
In the Sahel region, the numbers are even worse, with an estimated 33 million people experiencing extreme hunger, according to UNICEF.
5. Hundreds of Billions of Locusts Swarmed East Africa in 2020
In this file photo taken Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, a Samburu boy uses a wooden stick to try to swat a swarm of desert locusts filling the air, as he herds his camel near the village of Sissia, in Samburu county, Kenya.
It sounds almost biblical but it’s just another consequence of a changing climate: locust plagues.
Most of the time locusts travel alone, avoiding the heat. They need a unique combination of heavy rains and hot weather to gather in enough numbers to qualify as a swarm. But when they do, the consequences are deadly — an average swarm can travel up to 90 miles a day and destroy crops sufficient to feed 2,500 people for a year.
Unfortunately, this is the exact environment the climate crisis is creating in parts of Africa, particularly in the east, where the most recent outbreaks were the worst infestation for a quarter of a century.
6. 86 Million Africans Could Be Forced to Leave Their Homes by 2050
Displaced families arrive after being rescued from a flooded area of Mozambique in March 2019. UNHCR said that conflicts and the impact of climate change in places like Mozambique were among the leading sources of new flows of refugees in 2020.
Climate change-induced migration is what happens when people are forced to leave their homes because of a sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives. For example, a prolonged period of drought might mean agriculture is no longer a viable option for a smallholder farmer, or a family’s home might be destroyed in a flood.
But often, they are simply moving from one poverty situation (rural) to another (urban). This is because up to 70% of the continent’s urban population live in "slum" conditions — insecure informal settlements, sometimes without electricity, water, or basic sanitation.
Arriving in the city, these climate migrants generally take up residence in districts where locals already face high unemployment rates. Many of the people already living in these urban dwellings see the climate migrants as encroaching on the already scarce resources, which aggravates tensions and can lead to violence.
7. 1 in 3 Deaths From Extreme Weather Happen in Africa
People try to cross over a river after a bridge was swept away in Ntuzuma, outside Durban, South Africa, April 12, 2022. According to reports, prolonged rains and flooding in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province have claimed the lives of 300 people.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a third of deaths due to extreme weather events over the past 50 years have occurred in Africa.
Flooding in Somalia, for example, accounted for the highest natural disaster death toll in Africa since the start of the 21st century — claiming the lives of over 20,000 people in 2010.