Namibian Climate Changing?

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The sudden heavy rainfall that occurred over the last four months in the country cannot be coupled with climate change. Many regard the latest rain showers, especially over the Easter weekend, as abnormal but for those that are in doubt the rains are normal. Last year it rained throughout the same long weekend. In a recent interview with New Era, Coordinator of the Namibia Climate Change Programme under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism Joseph McGann said the prolonged rainfall conditions are not unusual for a country like Namibia and that such a single event cannot be directly associated with climate change, since rainfall is a cyclic event that needs to be analysed consistently. “You can’t pick on one event and say it’s climate change,” said McGann, adding that globally climate change is occurring but that a single event of constant rainfall recently over the coastal areas cannot merely be ascribed to climate change. Based on statistics, between 1892 and 1998 in Windhoek, there has been rainfall of between a low of 200 mm and a high of 780 mm on average on a yearly basis. Namibians have experienced some of the highest rainfall figures especially in the coastal towns of Swakop-mund, LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz, Henties Bay and Walvis Bay. Some rainfall as high as 400 mm were recently recorded in LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼de-ritz, the highest in history. In Walvis Bay after the recent heavy rains the poor drainage system that’s not conducive for such rainfall at the coast left pools of water in the town. However, according to the town council’s public relations officer Utaara Hoveka there are currently 100 catch pits through which the rainwater passes. “We now plan to put another 30 catch pits this financial year to allow for more rainwater catching points. After rains, municipal officials go to these catch pits and pump the water out,” said Hoveka. There are also five spots where the council has connected catch pits to the sewerage system, to enable the water contained in the catching facilities to be used for watering gardens and toilets. Back on the issue of climate change, McGann said there are other factors that contribute to climate change that have to be considered as well. “The variable rainfall, frequent droughts and reliance on subsistence agriculture combine to make Namibia highly vulnerable to climate change,” reads Namibia’s initial communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change of July 2002. According to this document, there is currently still a great deal of uncertainty with respect to what will happen to rainfall patterns in Namibia under climate change. Predictions range from a small increase of 30mm per year to severe decreases of 200mm below the current annual average. The greatest impact is likely to be felt in the central areas of the country. Focussing more on what possible effects climate change can have on the country, McGann said a rise in temperature of between two to three degrees in the next 100 years, causing a rise in sea level at the coast of up to one meter, will ultimately lead to flooding along the coastline. Based on the climate change document, the predicted rise of 0.3m to 1m in sea level would certainly flood parts of Walvis Bay, while Swakopmund and Henties Bay are also vulnerable. “This (climate change) will eventually affect the low-lying areas. Salt water from the sea will flow in and penetrate the aquifers, a rise in temperature could possible also increase the risk of malaria,” explained McGann. However McGann was optimistic that there are mechanisms in place to adapt to the changing environment when it comes to climate change in the country. This includes the possibility of building a wall around the coastal towns as a means of protection from rising sea levels and flooding, becoming more engaged in planting drought resistant crops, looking into intensifying the malaria campaign, as well as looking into the likelihood of establishing desalination plants. “There is no need to panic at all because we can plan and adjust according to the changing environment,” added McGann. Furthermore, when asked what he makes of the panic associated with a prophecy made of a tsunami hitting the coastal areas, McGann said he would not even consider it, as he only believes in what is based on scientific evidence. “Some people are just out there to make money or to cause a public scare,” he concluded briefly.