/ 6 September 2023

Africa lacks early warning systems to prepare for climate disasters

A view of the forest fires that swept through several states including Bouira, Algeria on July 24, 2023. At least 15 people were killed and 26 injured and 1,500 people evacuated due to wildfires. North Africa is warming at a faster rate which has been subject to multiple heat waves since last year. (Photo by Fazil Abd Erahim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

An early warning action plan for Africa was launched at Africa Climate Week in Nairobi, Kenya with the goal to save lives and livelihoods on a continent regularly exposed to extreme weather conditions.

The launch comes after the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released a report which found that about 60% of people in Africa lack early warning systems which could help them to better prepare for climate disasters.

According to the report, an effective early warning mechanism could prevent or reduce the risk of a disaster happening and minimise its effect. “As a result, recovery processes are cheaper and quicker, further contributing to resilience,” it said.

Mami Mizutori, UN head of disaster risk reduction, described the early warning for action plan as a comprehensive effort to strengthen early warning systems across Africa. 

“By focusing on monitoring, capacity building, communication, and community engagement, the initiative aims to enhance disaster preparedness, increase public awareness and promote regional cooperation. Ultimately, it strives to save lives, protect livelihoods and build a more resilient Africa,” she said.

The plan’s objective is to make sure that timely and accurate information about natural hazards and impending disasters reaches all segments of African society, particularly the most vulnerable.

The action plan advocates for having early warning signs to adequately prepare for natural disasters to reduce costs incurred after disasters hit.

The report added that Africa is heating up at a faster rate than the rest of the planet and enduring more severe climate and weather disasters such as droughts.

“Africa is responsible for only a fraction of global greenhouse gas emissions but is suffering disproportionately from climate change,” the report said.

“Climate change and the diminishing natural resource base could fuel conflicts for scarce productive land, water, and pastures, where farmer-herder violence has increased over the past 10 years due to growing land pressure,” it added.

Decisive action

On Tuesday, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for decisive climate action in addressing escalating extreme weather challenges. 

He urged leaders to unite in their commitment to climate resilience and fighting climate change to mitigate its impact. 

“I make a very strong appeal to the large emitters, the G20 countries that are responsible for 80% of the emissions that will be meeting this week in New Delhi, India. Assume your responsibilities,” Guterres said.

According to the report, at least 110 million people on the African continent were directly affected by weather, climate and water-related hazards in 2022, causing more than $8.5 billion in economic damages.

It added that people’s health, peace, prosperity, infrastructure and economic activities are exposed to significant risks including death from climate change.

“Five-thousand deaths were reported, of which nearly half were associated with drought and just over 40% with floods”, according to figures from the Emergency Event Database quoted in the report. “But the true toll is likely to be much higher because of under-reporting,” the report said.

Speaking at the launch of the conference, WMO secretary general Petteri Taalas said although Africa is the lowest emitter in the world, it was highly affected by climate change-related weather. 

Heatwaves, heavy rains, floods, tropical cyclones and prolonged droughts are having devastating impacts on communities and economies, with increasing numbers of people at risk.

He added that there are big gaps in weather observations in “Africa and early warning services are woefully inadequate. We are determined to close those gaps and ensure that life-saving early warnings reach everyone.”

Warming quicker

A number of African countries have been identified for priority action in the global initiative.

The report found that the average rate of warming in Africa was 0.3°C a decade in the 1991–2022 period, compared with 0.2°C in the world as a whole.

It warned that North Africa is warming at a faster rate which has been subject to multiple heat waves since last year. This has seen a decline of 34% in agricultural productivity, causing an increase in imports of cereal and grain. In July, parts of the region faced heatwaves and wildfires.

To address the shortage of the early warning systems in the country, Africa may need an increase in climate adaptation funding to $100 billion a year to improve on weather early warning systems and shield its agriculture from climate change, the Global Center on Adaptation said.

The most recent estimate shows that in 2020 African countries received about $11 billion a year. This is well below the $52.7 billion the continent’s nations have said they need. The estimate of $11 billion is also likely to be grossly underestimated. 

There’s also resistance from African countries because this money is often in the form of loans more so than grants. 

Guterres said it was important to rework the global financial system in a way that supports quicker climate action in a sustainable way.

Mandisa Nyathi is a climate reporting fellow, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa.