“From Cairo to the Cape, the impact of man-made climate change is already being felt. Farmers, people in cities, local scientists and governments all tell a remarkably similar story – that there is evidence of more extreme and unseasonal weather taking place outside the natural variability and cycles of African climate, and that the poorest communities are the least able to adapt.
In Egypt’s Nile delta, where 40% of the population lives, most of the land is liable to be inundated by a one-metre increase in sea levels, anticipated over the next century. Guy Jobbins, a Cairo-based British water scientist who heads Canada’s International Development Research Centre climate change adaptation programme for Africa, says understanding of the issue has rocketed in the past few years.
“Go to any farm, talk to any fisherman, and climate change fits their experience. The last few years have seen temperature spikes to world-record highs. We don’t absolutely know it’s climate change but we do know that the summers are hotter now, and the impact of evaporation is greater in the south of Egypt. We see crops dying in the fields, temperatures of 63C [145F] have been recorded, and the winters are not cold enough to grow olives. There are some advantages, like the fact that vegetables grow earlier, but smallholders have no way of taking advantage.
“We know sea level rise is happening but it’s slow and steady. But the effect is being aggravated by the increasing intensity of storms. Last year saw the worst [storms] in decades. The last few years have seen temperature spikes, with nights becoming unbearably hot and then switching to freezing cold. But the real issues are groundwater and soil salination. Coastal aquifers become depleted, which leads to groundwater becoming salinated. As sea levels rise the water becomes more stagnant and salty. It’s affecting hundreds of square kilometres, up to 10km from the coast in places. … Climate change is a massive problem for developing countries because people are less resistant to shocks and cannot adapt.”
A thousand miles south in Khartoum, Dr Sumaya Zakieldeen, a researcher at Khartoum University’s institute of environmental studies, says the harsh climate that Sudan already experiences will become more extreme. She and her team have compared historical data going back to 1940 and found drought and extreme flooding more frequent, temperatures rising in winter, extreme – good and bad – years now more common and rainfall patterns changing.”