As climate change sets in, the global poor feel the heat

By Henry Neondo

Melting glaciers and lingering droughts leave the developing world increasingly parched, says 2006 Human Development Report; adaptation is crucial

“Throughout the developing world, climate change will likely reduce the availability of water, lower agricultural productivity and expose millions of poor people to hunger, but efforts thus far to help them adapt to this changing environment have been “woefully inadequate”, asserts the newly released 2006 Human Development Report.

The Report, entitled Beyond scarcity: Power, poverty and the global water crisis, argues that global warming is no longer a threat on the horizon” it is taking place, and its effects on water security are becoming devastatingly apparent.

Moreover, the most severe consequences will be experienced by countries and people who bear no responsibility for the problem.

For example, more than three million people risk starvation due to years of drought in northern Kenya. Other parts of sub-Saharan Africa” from Burkina Faso and Mali, to Zambia and Zimbabwe” are facing major crop losses among food staples from climate-change-induced weather patterns.

The Horn of Africa, southern Africa, and the Sahel, which are already dealing with chronic and persistent food emergencies, could experience losses of over 30 percent for maize production, production losses of more than 20 percent for sorghum losses of 18 percent or more in the production of millet.

Accelerated glacial melt and reduced rainfall threaten major food systems in South Asia, where India faces the twin challenges of glacial melt and a marked reduction in rainy days in most of the country, including areas prone to drought.

Glaciers in Central Asia and Latin America are rapidly shrinking, too.

As dry areas get drier, wet areas get wetter and extreme weather becomes more common, the poor” that are usually most exposed to the elements, most directly dependent on natural resources and have the lowest capacity to adapt to crop production losses” will become more vulnerable to hunger, poverty and environmental degradation. Inequality will intensify.

Mitigating future climate change is important, the Report says, but poor people are now being forced to adapt--and the international community must help.

“Either we take concerted action now to bring clean water and sanitation to the world’s poor, or we consign millions of people to lives of avoidable poverty, poor health and diminished opportunities, and perpetuate deep inequalities within and between countries. We have a collective responsibility to succeed”, said United Nations Development Programme
Administrator Kemal Dervi.

The Report cites several crucial steps in helping the poor adapt. Increased funding is at the top of the list. The Adaptation Fund attached to the
Kyoto Protocol will mobilize only about $20 million by 2012 on current projections, while the Global Environmental Facility” the principal multilateral mechanism for adaptation” has allocated $50 million to support adaptation between 2005 and 2007.

These levels of funding don’t come close to meeting the need for assistance in adapting to the dramatic changes in the global climate, the Report contends.

An upsurge in aid to developing-world agriculture’s the sector most affected by global warming “must accompany increased support for adaptation, the Report argues. Developing countries as a group have seen aid to agriculture tumble from 12 percent to 3.5 percent of total aid since the early 1990s.

Reversing these trends will be critical to successful adaptation. The
Report says tripling aid to agriculture’s from $3 billion annually to
$10 billion by 2010 -- should be a minimum requirement.

Regions where the world’s hungry are concentrated will have to absorb the bulk of the planet’s additional population over the next decades, estimated at 2.4 billion by 2050.

And as most of them will be dependent on rainfed agriculture, the number of those at risk will continue to rise.

What’s more, intensifying competition for existing water supplies from industry and urbanization puts poor farmers at even greater risk of losing their livelihoods, or worse.

“The biggest challenge ahead is how to manage water resources faced with competition and climate change to meet rising food needs while protecting the access of poor and vulnerable people”, said the Report’s lead author Kevin Watkins.

Melting glaciers are the clearest evidence of global warming: In the
1990s glacial mass fell at three times the rate of the previous decade. The melting of these water banks, surprisingly, reduces the actual availability of water.

More robust river flows make flash floods more likely, exacerbating already acute irrigation drainage problems.
Higher temperatures lead to the evaporation of most of the melted water from glaciers. Flows to reservoirs and irrigation diminish; agriculture” and consequently, broader societies suffers.

To be sure, the long-term human-development implications of global warming are alarming. In some regions, changing rainfall patterns and declining water availability will reduce crop yields by a quarter or more by

Global malnutrition could increase by 15 to 26 percent, says the report, with 75 to 125 million more people facing malnourishment by 2080.

But in Kenya, suffering for lack of water is here, and now.

Entire pastoral communities have seen their herds and assets depleted, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to all future risks. Violent clashes between farmers and pastoralists over water have become increasingly common, while Kenya’s GDP fell 16 percent between 1998 and 2000 due to drought.

And the full economic costs are probably much greater since these figures fail to count the effects of malnutrition, reduced investment in agriculture and a loss of investment in industry.

As the 2006 Human Development Report makes clear, success in adapting to climate change, in Kenya and around the developing world, cannot wait.

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