The African Drought Conference kicked off on Monday with a resounding message that African countries should become pro-active to buffer themselves against drought events rather than merely resorting to drought management.
“Response aid is insufficient, a longer term approach is required in order to build the resilience of the most vulnerable,” said Anita Kiki Gbeho, the UN resident coordinator in Namibia.
“Addressing climate change will need to be integrated into national planning and policies,” said Gbeho, who doubles as United National Development Programme (UNDP) resident representative in Namibia.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah, who officially opened the conference on Monday, said southern Africa faces the worst drought in over 30 years and thus declared a regional state of emergency two months ago.
“We have to overcome the prevailing paradigm of reactive and crisis-based approaches to drought and move towards proactive and risk-based approaches that are indispensable to reduce the risks and mitigate the impacts of droughts, floods and other disasters,” Nandi-Ndaitwah told delegates.
Her sentiments were echoed by Dr Daniel Tsegai, programme officer of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
“If we do nothing, we have to face the bitter consequences – a paradigm shift is needed. The time to act is now to move from a piecemeal approach to a coordinated approach,” Tsegai urged.
The approximately 400 delegates are discussing best practices for drought mitigation, better early warning systems and improved resilience for rural communities. The centre-piece of the discussions is a draft white paper, called ‘Strategic Framework for Drought and Enhancing Resilience to Drought in Africa’.
Several experts opine that drought impacts are generally under-estimated by governments and a lack of political will seems to exist with silo-type drought management efforts. In response the draft recommends that the focus should be shift to the “human dimensions” of drought.
The approach should be more people-centred, with greater emphasis on women and children, as they are usually the worst affected by drought events.
It is recognised that the majority of African countries continue to be inadequately prepared to cope with and adapt to drought.
“Droughts become more frequent due to impact of climate change,” said Mohamed Bazza of the Food and Agriculture Organisation.
Experts have warned that drought awareness needs to be strengthened in most African countries, particularly among farmers, pastoralists and communities in rural areas.
Early action can lead to the development and implementation of various mitigation actions, including better land management to reduce impacts of future drought events.
Drought does not only destroy arable land, thus increasing food insecurity, but also has significant secondary impacts on the health sector of nations, as well as economic sectors, like energy, and transport.
The draft strategic framework to be discussed and adopted in Windhoek proposes that African countries develop and implement drought strategies that integrate national and regional institutions on the continent under the leadership of the African Union.
Drought strategies should be implemented “in collaboration with international communities, including the UN agencies,” the draft strategic framework recommends.
The draft strategic framework will be presented on Thursday to the African ministers present for consideration and input during a high-level session.
Fifteen African ministers have confirmed the participation for the one and a half-day high-level segment, which ends on Friday.
Once agreed to, the framework will be presented to the next AU heads of state summit for adoption.
The African Drought Conference scheduled from August 15 to 19 is organised by Namibia in collaboration with the UNCCD.
The conference is divided into two parts: a technical level segment until Wednesday afternoon, with the main focus on the draft ‘Strategic Framework for Drought Management and Enhancing Resilience to Drought in Africa’ (white paper).
On Thursday, August 18, the second part of the conference (the high-level segment) will start with the keynote address to be delivered by President Hage Geingob.
On Friday the ‘Windhoek Declaration on Drought Resilience’ is expected to be adopted by the delegates in attendance.