The fear that the climate change challenge currently ravaging the world will hit the poorest people hardest has always been well founded. As a result, any advocacy for measures to check climate change has in essence been an advocacy for the worlds poorest people – a bid to protect them. If the climate change crisis extends beyond the future of our planet to touch on the realities hitting the worlds poorest people hardest, it invariably means the crisis has a lot to do with Africa.

The statistics are truly frightening. Africa is the second most vulnerable region to climate change in the globe. Nine out of the ten most vulnerable countries to climate change are in Africa. The continent loses between seven and fifteen billion dollars annually due to climate change with the amount expected to reach   fifty billion dollars annually by 2040.

There would seem to be an inexorable link between Africa and poverty, especially sub-Saharan Africa. The largest share of the worlds poorest people live in Africa. For example, Nigeria, Africas most populous country and one of the poverty capitals of the world, has over 91 million of its about 250 million citizens languishing below the poverty line. About 490 million poor people live under the poverty line in Africa with one of five children living in extreme poverty.

The COVID-19 pandemic that raged for most of 2020 and 2021 helped compound Africa`s poverty problem. Recent reports indicated that the global pandemic pushed more than 55 million Africans into extreme poverty, reversing in the process two decades of painstaking work on poverty reduction on the continent.

The United Nations had revealed earlier in the year that twenty million people could starve in the horn of Africa after delayed rains worsened already brutal droughts in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. In the last two years alone, Africa has been hit by 14 extreme droughts, far more than any other continent and according to the United Nations, some 20 million people are at risk in East Africa.

A UN- convened summit on the devastating effects of the three Ds – drought, desertification, and degradation of land was recently hosted by the Ivory Coast. However, it appears Africa did not get much change out of the two-week-long meeting in Abidjan in tackling the challenges that affect Africa the most.

At the summit, many African countries argued for a legally binding global agreement to tackle droughts – something like the Kyoto protocol launched in 1997 to cut down carbon emissions.

At the summit, Uganda and Angola were among the states to amplify the demands of the African bloc. However, both countries were keen to ensure that drought was approached not as an African problem but as a global problem to ensure it gets global attention. The argument was also put forward that that droughts were being fueled by climate change, and so only global action can make a difference, although in Africa`s case land degradation and desertification had aggravated the problem.

However, Africa`s proposal at the summit for a legally binding instrument to confront headlong the problems of drought, desertification, and degradation of land was given short shrift by the representatives of other continents who argued that there were already in place global instruments such as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, Sustainable Development Goals and even the Paris Climate Agreement and that the duplication of instruments will not ease the problem.

Also, a report unveiled at the Summit, Drought in Numbers, showed that out of the 23 countries that have had drought emergencies in the past two years, the majority – 14- were in Africa. Between 2000 and 2019, Africa was said to have had 134 droughts,70 of which occurred in East Africa.

Africa was always vulnerable from the beginning because two-thirds of Africa is desert and dryland which has limited productive land to start with.  65% of what little productive land is left is already degraded.

There is no doubt that drought, exacerbated by climate change, poses a grave threat to Africans, especially children.  The grim picture of the danger African children face from drought was recently painted by the situation in Somalia. In April, experts warned that with Somalia facing its worst drought in a decade, children were bearing the brunt as parents struggled to feed them. The country`s under-five population was placed in acute danger of suffering from acute malnutrition by June.

The United Nations Office for the coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha) also warned that if nothing was done, 350,000 of the 1.4 million severely malnourished children in the country would perish.

There is only very little doubt that droughts which are signs of climate change pose grave dangers for children and their family. Decisive action must be taken.

Kene Obiezu,

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