By Fikrejesus Amahazion (PhD),
According to the World Bank (WB), climate change, which will involve more droughts, floods, heatwaves, and other severe weather conditions, poses a great global threat, particularly to poor, vulnerable, marginalized populations, who are often hardest hit by its effects. Notably, multiple stressors, including the spread of HIV/AIDS, the implications of global economic integration, the privatization of resources, migration, and conflict are closely interrelated with climate change, while climate change has also negatively contributed to health problems such as malnutrition, malaria, meningitis, and dengue fever (Fields 2005; UNICEF 2015; World Bank n.d.).
Potentially, climate change may lead to considerable crop yield losses, especially within Sub-Saharan Africa; for example, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), yields for maize in Zimbabwe and South Africa could decrease by more than 30% by 20150.
Problematically, crop yield losses associated with climate change may cause food prices to significantly spike, thus leading to greater malnutrition and stunting, particularly within poorer households. Furthermore, warmer temperatures associated with climate change will increase water scarcity, exacerbating existent health and development challenges.
For example, it is estimated that approximately 2,000 children under the age of five die every single day from diarrheal diseases. Frustratingly, the vast majority of these deaths are relatively easily preventable, often being closely connected to problems with and inadequate access to water, sanitation, and hygiene. As well, illnesses and diseases arising from a lack of water and sanitation also lead to considerable losses in productivity, burden individuals, families, communities, and healthcare systems with massive costs, and ultimately stunt national economies.
A fundamental way to deal with the impacts of a changing climate is adaptation, which involves taking practical actions to manage risks from climate impacts, protect individuals and communities, and strengthen the resilience of the economy. Targeted climate adaptation measures include, amongst others, constructing protective infrastructure to deal with flooding, developing disaster preparedness mechanisms, and promoting a range of climate-resilient technologies for enhanced agricultural and livestock production.
For Eritrea, a low-income, developing country located within the arid and semi-arid Sahelian region and characterized by harsh, challenging conditions, adaptation and managing the impacts of climate change are vital. The majority of the country’s population resides within rural and semi-rural areas, relying on crop cultivation and animal husbandry for income, while water scarcity is a leading national concern.
Current projected climate change impacts for Eritrea are significant, including: a temperature increase of above 4 degrees Celsius by 2050 (above the average global value); an increasing variability in rainfall and a substantial reduction in precious sources of water such as boreholes and run-off (i.e. excess water from rain or other sources flowing over the land); more frequent dry spells and more severe droughts; and decreased soil moisture. Ultimately, these climate change impacts will considerably affect the country’s water resources and agricultural sector, and intensify the country’s already formidable development and food security challenges.
In recent years, the Eritrean government, along with a variety of international development partners and relevant stakeholders, has sought to counter the devastating impact of climate change by investing in a range of initiatives and programs, including: creating small-scale irrigation schemes; building numerous ponds, reservoirs and dams; installing solar panels for water pumps throughout the country; and developing drip, pump and sprinkler irrigation systems. These steps have substantially helped the country’s farmers more efficiently and effectively cultivate agricultural land, ensure their food security, and ultimately earn a secure income.
Additionally, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) recently highlighted a unique and exciting climate change adaptation programme taking place within Eritrea’s Anseba region. The multi-year, multi-million dollar project aims to increase community resilience and adaptive capacity to climate change through integrated water management and agricultural development.
Of note, the project provides a minimum integrated agricultural package: construction of water harvesting facilities; implementation of soil erosion measures; irrigation; adoption of climate smart agriculture; provision of livelihood support systems; and development of community-based early warning systems. Encouragingly, the project has already yielded commendable results and led to positive, concrete outcomes for locals, especially women and children.
Notably, the Anseba project is a poignant illustration of important ongoing collaborative initiatives between the Eritrean government, international development partners (e.g. the UNDP and the Adaptation Fund, which was established under the Kyoto Protocol of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), and civil society groups and organizations. Moreover, it reflects the country’s continued focus on inclusive development and tangible poverty reduction, and firm commitment to increasing people’s capacity to prepare for and cope with climate change-related challenges.