Sub-Saharan Africa knows more than its fair share of disasters induced by natural hazards. The past few months alone have seen drought in the Horn of Africa, floods in Mali and Rwanda, and landslides in Ethiopia and Uganda. Between 2005 and 2015, the region experienced an average of 157 disasters per year, claiming the lives of roughly 10,000 people annually.
The Msimbazi River makes a volatile neighbor. With depressing regularity, the river breaks its banks and inundates houses built on its low-lying floodplains. During the 2014 rains, 600 houses were flooded in the riverine Kigogo Ward alone; thirteen of which were completely destroyed. Yet, as the floodwaters recede, people return.
“What is wrong with these people?” people often say. “They should not be there; they know it’s not safe!” Citizens, journalists, and policymakers, express disbelief that people relocated to safer parts of the city return to their former, flood-prone neighborhoods. So why do they do it?
“That tastes like fish.”
“There’s some avocado and tomato in it too!”
“What is that?”
These are some of the exclamations I heard from participants of a recent social experiment dubbed “Dining in the Dark” in Nairobi on November 13th as they ate the first course of their meal.
Around the time Marvel’s Black Panther film was breaking box office records across the globe, I met with a high-ranking Ugandan official in Washington, D.C. In the middle of conversation, I asked what I needed to know as the new country manager for Uganda. He leaned over and said, “Uganda is Wakanda!”
When it does not rain, people starve.
This is the reality for many farmers in the Sahel—and across the globe—and the situation is only becoming more dire due to climate change. Yet, during a recent visit to Garin Madougou, a village in Dokoro, a district in Niger, we saw that lack of rainfall does not have to lead to food insecurity.
With all the other hazards facing Africa, it’s easy to forget that East Africa is home to the 6000-km long Rift Valley System—the largest continental seismic rift system on earth. The sub-region covers 5.5 million km2 and is inhabited by about 120 million people.
The Rift Valley is not subject to the high-magnitude earthquakes that we see along subduction zones, such as those in the Ring of Fire—the area in the basin of the Pacific Ocean known for its many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions—which can produce catastrophic consequences, as we’ve just seen in Indonesia. In the Rift Valley, residents have not experienced a high-magnitude earthquake in their lifetime, leading many people to deduce that the seismic risk is low or non-existent.
In communities throughout the world, children are back to school. But what if, in this era of climate change, the school is under water?
In Zambia’s Western Province, flooding has forced many students to commute to distant schools or stay at home for much of the first half of the school year. This is a common issue in African countries, where the seasonal shift between drought and flood is increasingly rapid and extreme.
Severe weather patterns, including floods, droughts, extreme temperatures and thunderstorms, repeatedly damage poorly constructed buildings, like schools, in the flood-prone communities of the Western Province and other parts of Zambia.
For thousands of years, the Niger River has been the lifeblood for not only Niger, but also its neighboring countries in the Niger River Basin. Yet, even as many Nigeriens depend on the mighty waterway for food, water, and livelihoods, the Niger River also poses a severe flood risk to the West African country during the rainy season. In the third quarter of 2017, widespread flooding due to heavy rains claimed the lives of over 50 people and displaced nearly 200,000.
It is easy to be alarmed about climate change, and, unfortunately, with good reason. Although experts cannot predict the future with certainty, they agree that Côte d’Ivoire will experience hotter temperatures and more variable, albeit more intense, rainfall, with masses of land being engulfed by rising sea levels. Deniers, the indifferent, or simply those who have little choice but to live in the present typically either advocate a wait-and-see approach or, at best, delayed action.