Climate Change Could Hold Us Hostage

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By Wezi Tjaronda

WINDHOEK

The impact of climate change especially for developing countries such as Namibia is so enormous that they have instilled fear in those that have attempted to understand the phenomenon.

What makes Namibia particularly vulnerable is its aridity and its variable rainfall patterns. In addition, the country relies mostly on its natural resources.

Projections are that the impact of climate change (CC) on this southern African country could reduce its GDP by one to six percent, which translates into between US$70 and US$200 million if no action is taken to adapt to climate change.

Worse still, employment opportunities could shrink and wages could fall, with wages of unemployed workers dropping by 24 percent if it comes to the worst.

As a country in which agriculture is one of the main contributors to GDP, Namibia could experience increased temperatures especially in the summer months of October and get shorter rainfall periods. That would mean less water.

Although there have been predictions of less rains falling, the Desert Research Foundation Namibia said the rainfall scenario was less clear.
The DRFN worked with the Climate System Analysis Group of Cape Town South Africa.

Erik Dirkx, a consultant working with DRFN’s Land Desk, said the trends that Namibia surely could see in the face of climate change include the late onset of rains in the northern areas.

The rains could be delayed by a day or two every year, which could result in shortened growing seasons.

However, all over Namibia, Dirkx said, the rainfall would be the same, only that it could fall in shorter periods. This has its own consequences as it could result in rainstorms in the late summer months of March and April.

There is a slight indication that in the southwest of Namibia where the Orange River mouth is, there would be less rainfall, which is not good news for the ecosystem. Already little rains fall in that area in winter.

The predictions of the agricultural and water sectors have not been conclusive because even if rainfall periods were shorter by between 90 and 100 days, this would still be favourable said Dirkx.

Drastic Changes Needed

In the face of all these threats, Namibians will have to improve crop management practices, put in place effective early warning systems, use water wisely, diversify the agricultural sector and the economy, grow heat resistance crops and also rear more traditional and heat-resistant livestock breeds.

Dirkx said consumers would have to work with climate researchers and base decisions on recent climate trends to bring the latest information especially to the rural farming communities.

“We will need to ensure that we have good information and early warning systems that are fast. We should also find ways to work with communities and involve them in outreach activities,” he said.

Namibians will also have to grow crops that are less susceptible to variable climate by going into agro forestry. Although the types of trees are not yet known, trees also use up more water compared to crops.

Irrigating trees also has disadvantages because irrigation water accounts for half of the water consumption, while it could also increase the risk of salinisation of soils.

The country will also have to find a way of diversifying its economy to move out of the agriculture sector, which is vulnerable.
The way Namibian farmers depend on livestock will also have to change in order to adapt to climate change by considering breed types that are heat resistant.

This contradicts the desires of communal farmers who want improved varieties such as the Brahman, which produces more milk.
Namibia will also have to strengthen its artificial recharge, which the City of Windhoek started years back to boost underground water supplies.

“In areas with great demand for water like Windhoek, we will have to store water underground. It’s cost effective and it makes sense as far as Namibia is concerned,” he added.

According to 2001 statistics, households accounted for 12 percent of water consumption, while municipalities accounted for 24 percent.
Almost 60 percent of water in municipalities is lost due to lack of proper administration, leakages and lack of monitoring systems.

Municipalities will therefore have to introduce monitoring systems to account for water losses and improve billing and follow up on payments.
“If you do that, you could make gains in the effective use of water,” he said.

Advice for
Consumers

1. Plan families to have fewer children especially in rural areas where the greatest impact will be. This would result in fewer mouths to feed and more money for education that ensure that children have better chances of surviving in an economy that is not dependent on subsistence farming.
2. Work with municipalities by using water sparingly.

3. Ensure good cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and farmers’ unions and be willing to consider alternative options in the face of CC.

The UNDP and its partners have embarked on a project, ‘Adapting to climate change through the improvement of traditional crops and livestock farming’, with the aim of developing a range of effective coping mechanisms that assist subsistence farmers in the north-central regions. This will help residents of those regions to better manage and cope with climate change including variability such as droughts.

The expected outcomes of the project, which started in November and will run until December 2010, are climate change adaptation measures of rural communities in agricultural production piloted and tested, improved information flows on climate change, including variability between providers and key users and climate change issues integrated into planning processes.

Key partners in this project are the ministries of Agriculture, Water and Forestry; Environment and Tourism; Lands and Resettlement; Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development; and the National Planning Commission, Global Environmental Facility, United Nations Environmental Programme, Food and Agricultural Organisation, UNESCO, World Bank and education and research centres.

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