Scientists tell us climate change is what is behind the changes we witness in our weather patterns. These include:
The increase in average temperatures Increased variability both in temperatures and in rain patterns Rising sea levels and salination Changes in water availability Changes in the frequency and intensity of “extreme weather events”
Over the last 100 years, temperatures have risen about 1.1°C globally. Most of the warming took place in the last 35 years with 16 of the 17 warmest years on record occurring since 2001. As this trend continues, Sahel and West Africa will be most affected although evidence shows that many other countries in Africa and the rest of the world are increasingly affected too. Scientist estimate that the temperature increases will be 1.5 times higher in Sahel and West Africa, compared to the rest of the continent. This means by 2100, we will be facing temperatures higher by 3-6°C.
In West Africa Sahel we have seen lots of changes. We have seen increased variability in rainfall with sudden switches between very wet and very dry years. We have also lost a lot of rainfall. From 2000–2009, average rainfall was below average in Burkina Faso by 15%, in Chad by 13%, in Mali by 12%, and in Niger by 8%.
There have been many extreme events and effects around the globe. From 1983 to 1992 the world averaged 147 climate, water and weather disasters each year. Over the past 10 years, that number has jumped to an average 306 a year. We also see rainfall increases and decreases predicted for western Africa and the Sahel; that is, there are large uncertainties surrounding the projected rainfall futures in this region.
In addition, we have had many more wildfires due to long periods of drought in South Africa, but at the same time we have had continual flooding in urban areas like Lagos in Nigeria.
When water heats up, it expands. About half of the past century's rise in sea level is attributable to warmer oceans simply occupying more space. In addition, large ice formations such as glaciers and polar ice caps are melting at faster rates due to increased temperatures, including the ice sheets that cover Greenland and Antarctica.
The oceans have absorbed much of this increased heat, with the top 700 meters (about 2,300 feet) of ocean showing warming of 0.302°F since 1969. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have decreased in size and mass, and we have seen a sea level rise of 20 centimeters (8 inches) in the last century.
There is increased salinity in freshwater ecosystems and loss of functioning as ecosystems lose their resilience and can no longer absorb water and protect us from wind, and we are losing our biodiversity. We also see an irreversible change in oceans and savannas and this affects fish and feed for livestock and other animals.
When sea levels rise rapidly, as they have been doing, even a small increase can have devastating effects on coastal habitats. As seawater reaches farther inland, it can cause destructive erosion, wetland flooding, aquifer and agricultural soil contamination, and lost habitat for fish, birds and plants.
Climate change has impacts on many aspects of our lives directly and indirectly. It affects agriculture, livestock, and fisheries; water and other natural resources, ecosystems; and increases health and disaster risks. It also increases the risk of conflict and migration.
In this training we discuss how men and women in communities are affected by climate change and focus mainly on rural livelihoods, food security and nutrition outcomes for families who live in Africa ー but these issues are relevant for people and communities around the world.
There are 9 countries that make up the West African Sahel. They are Burkina Faso, Chad, The Gambia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, northern Cameroon and Nigeria, and Senegal. These countries are home to 100 million people and the population is growing faster than in many other parts of the world.
The Sahara Desert covers a large portion of the region. Agriculture, which is the backbone of the economies in the region, is mostly rainfed. There are some small areas where there is also irrigated and river valley agriculture. These areas are mostly in the southern part of the region where livestock rearing is also prevalent and an important source of livelihood.