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Climate change in Africa

May 15, 2012

Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa admit that climate change is a problem. Yet, instead of joining hands to tackle it, they argue over water and land. A German– African initiative is determined to change this.

Image: Norbert Jürgens

If the predictions are true, the southern part of Africa will be hit hard; the average temperature will rise by up to seven degrees by the end of the century. If the population doubles as predicted, then there will be more problems in addition to drought and flood disasters. The extraction of raw materials is expected to increase, land demand for plants as suppliers of bio energy will grow and the amount of land lost due to human settlement will also increase. These are global problems for which regional solutions are being sought.

Joint climate change centers

A new German–African research initiative aims to increase the exchange of knowledge in the region. It's called SASSCAL which stands for Southern African Science Service Center for Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management. Germany, along with African partner countries such as Namibia, Angola, Botswana, Zambia and South Africa is setting up a center in Nambia's capital Windhoek for the purpose of combating climate change. Another center is planned in West Africa. Partner countries there are Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

Prof. Dr. Norbert Jürgens from the University of Hamburg
Professor Norbert Jürgens is SASSCAL's project coordinatorImage: DW

In both locations, scientists will not only collect data on the regional impacts of climate change but will also develop appropriate concepts for land use. Every year at each center 100 Africans will be able to begin academic training courses, as students, graduate students, researchers or engineers, says SASSCAL project coordinator Professor Norbert Jürgens from the University of Hamburg.

Research at home, not abroad

The goal is for African scientists "not to have to go far away to pursue interesting research, but to be able to do it on the spot", said German Federal Research Minister Annette Schavan, who donated 100 million euros ($128 million) to the five-year SASSCAL project. This will be used to equip new laboratories and finance personnel training. "We are creating a sustainable regional structure, which will be operated by the African partners, and to which Germany is contributing," Schavan said. In the view of the Namibian ambassador in Germany, Neville M. Gertze, this research cooperation is a godsend. "SASSCAL is a research project with Africa – it is not a project in or about Africa," he said.

A closeup of Namibian Ambassador in Germany Neville M. Geertze
Regional coordination is urgently needed, says Namibian ambassador Neville M. GeertzeImage: DW

Cross-border water management

That joint action is urgently needed can be seen in Namibia. Three times in a row President Pohamba has been forced to declare a state of emergency because of flooding. A year ago, a flood disaster left 38,000 people homeless. "Disaster management and reconstruction have taught us that it is high time to establish regional coordination and communication in southern Africa," Ambassador Gertze said at the launch of the initiative in Berlin earlier this year.

Three children in a rocky desert with a man reading from a book
SASSCAL wants to give young Africans a better futureImage: Norbert Jürgens

SASSCAL intends to facilitate exactly that kind of communication in its cross-border water management program. The main focus is conflicts over water in Okavango. Only if the water from the higher reaches of the river in Angola is removed in a responsible manner, will ecosystems lower down in Namibia and Botswana remain intact. SASSCAL coordinator Jürgens is convinced that the Okavango project can lay the foundations for future policy. He sees a need for new weather stations, of which there are few in Angola. "They will enable more reliable weather forecasts," says Jürgens. Using satellite monitoring accompanied by an early warning system, they will be able to monitor the flood currents and implement more effective emergency plans for the population.

Author: Richard A. Fuchs / al

Editor: Susan Houlton