Navigating Extremes: Mitigating Droughts and Floods Across African Landscapes

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With Africa’s growing population, floods are affecting an increasing number of people. And the alarming frequency and magnitude of droughts are demonstrating the impact of global climate changes.

Extreme climate events cause loss of life and billions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage, forcing communities and nations into lengthy recovery periods. These are global phenomena, but Africa is the most severely affected.

As various stakeholders gathered at Kenya’s Deputy President’s Rigathi Gachagua official residence, the discussion centered on mitigating the effects of flooding and desertification that have ravaged the East African region and the continent as a whole.

Drought has affected about 50 million people in the Horn of Africa directly and another 100 million in the wider area. About 20 million people are at risk of acute food insecurity and potential famine.

The region has been suffering its worst drought in 40 years since October 2020, with extended dry conditions punctuated by short intense rainfall that has often led to flash flooding. There have been five consecutive seasons of rainfall below normal levels.

At least 4.35 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, and at least 180,000 refugees have fled Somalia and South Sudan for Kenya and Ethiopia, which have also been affected by the drought.

According to a study by the World Weather Attribution group of scientists, the ongoing drought would not have happened without human actions that have changed the climate.

Now, as the region battles El Niño rains, Gachagua is undoubtedly concerned for the worst affected populations.

El Niño occurs on average every two to seven years, and episodes typically last nine to 12 months. It is a naturally occurring climate pattern associated with warming of the ocean surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. But it takes place in the context of a climate changed by human activities.

According to stakeholders such as the Kenya Red Cross and Kenya’s county authorities andgovernment ministers, the role of the media at this time should be to educate and inform the rest of the world about the negative effects of the massive damage of El Niño rains.

According to most global climate models, El Niño conditions are expected to persist throughout the fourth quarter of the year.

Furthermore, warmer-than-average mean sea surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Western Equatorial Indian Ocean (near the East African coast) combined with cooler-than-average SSTs in the Eastern Equatorial Indian Ocean (near Australia) may form a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). According to the Kenya Meteorological Department, this will bring increased rainfall over most East Africa.

Kenya hopes to have a relatively fair to good rainfall distribution throughout the season although storms are likely to occur in several parts of the country.

While this might be the case in East Africa, it is also true that flooding and desertification have occurred in other sub-Saharan African regions. This puts the entire continent in jeopardy. As a result, it is critical to consider the measures required to combat desertification and flooding in other parts of Africa.

Data scarcity, a lack of customised models, and uncertainties in global forecasts are among the challenges in forecasting flood events in manyAfrican countries, although Kenya’s National Hydrological and Meteorological Services (NMHS) is one of the best and offers comprehensive solutions to flooding. These include, among other things,

To provide communities with integrated weather and climate information, NMHSs must develop capabilities across the entire service delivery chain. The fundamental matrices the scientific community considers necessary for reducing the impacts of climate extremes in Africa and the world are enhanced and targeted impact-based forecasting, timely distribution of accurate and easily understood information, and delivery to the public and other sectors.

The WMO’s Multi-hazard Early Warning Systems: A Checklist guidelines, which support the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, prioritises the adoption of such a comprehensive methodology.

Simultaneously, more African countries must embrace available early warning systems, such as the Global Flood Awareness System (GloFAS). This should be a continuous process: ‘closing the chapter’ at the end of a flood event without taking actionable steps to reduce the impacts of similar events in the future will not save nations from the frequent and devastating effects of floods. Improved forecasting can also assist African countries in implementing new flood-reduction strategies, such as anticipatory action.

The relationship between the media and science communication, knowledge, and behavior has proven advantageous. The media encourages a better understanding of the onset and evolution of extreme events, the mobilisation of response efforts, the discussion of these topics with others, and the facilitation of online debates on climate change and its potential impacts on communities. As a result, the media is critical in disseminating information, and it should work more closely and collaboratively withother actors than it does now.

However, data is only meaningful if it is put into action. Governance and institutional arrangements at the national level should effectively mobilise early action, preparedness, and policy implementations in response to warnings received.

This emphasises the importance of taking practical actions before, during, and after a flooding event because combining such activities will determine the consequences for vulnerable communities.

Improved flood monitoring, forecasting, and early warnings, among other factors, combined with the capacity of affected communities and disaster response policies to determine the losses caused by hazards such as floods and extreme rainfall events. Scientists contribute empirical and theoretical knowledge to research; media facilitates communication, and policymakers act on the information provided to ensure an efficient working system. This collective action by actors at various levels is critical in addressing a common problem.

The UN recognises land degradation and desertification as two of the world’s most serious environmental issues. Desertification is estimated to affect approximately 33% of the global land surface;erosion has removed nearly one-third of the world’s arable land from production over the last 40 years.

Africa is the most vulnerable and severely affected region regarding land degradation and desertification. Desertification affects approximately 45% of Africa’s land area, with 55% at a high risk of further degradation. It is widely assumed that land degradation in Africa has harmed agricultural ecosystems and crop production, posing a barrier to achieving food security and improving livelihoods.

Much of the literature, however, needs empirical underpinnings for quantifying this loss and assessing the cost of inaction, the cost of action, and the benefits of action against land degradation. The price of action against land degradation, viewed as a state and a process, includes investments to restore degraded land and reduce degrading land’s degradation rate.

Implementing mechanical and biological measures and increasing land productivity can accomplish this. The returns on such investments are viewed as action benefits such as crop damage prevention and productivity loss.

Major policy interventions and changes in management approaches are required to prevent and reverse desertification. Such interventions should be carried out at all levels, from the local to the global, with the active participation of stakeholders and local communities. Societal and policy actions must be tailored to the degree of desertification a society is experiencing or is likely to encounter.

In areas where desertification is in its early stages or is minor, it is possible to halt the process and restore critical services in degraded areas. Prevention is far more cost-effective than rehabilitation, and policydecisions should reflect this.

Addressing desertification is critical to meeting the Millennium Development Goals, which aim, among other things, to eradicate extreme poverty and ensure environmental sustainability. Human populations in drylands, on average, have a lower quality of life than people in other areas. Drylands are home to roughly half of the world’s poor, and their societies are particularly vulnerable due to dryland ecosystem conditions and poverty. Combating desertification would thus contribute to the abolition of extreme poverty and hunger.

Alternative livelihoods less dependent on traditional land uses require less local land and natural resource use and provide long-term income. Dryland aquaculture for producing fish, crustaceans, and industrial compounds produced by microalgae, greenhouse agriculture, and tourism-related activities are examples of such livelihoods.

In some areas, they generate relatively high income per land and water unit. For example, dryland aquaculture under a plastic cover reduces evaporative losses and allows for the productive use of saline or brackish water.

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