Climate Change-Induced Droughts in Africa Spawn Food Shortages, Mass Child Malnutrition

Farmers, herders and families in seven countries across Southern Africa, and parts of East Africa, are among the millions who are affected by a devastating drought that wiped out livestock, pushed up food prices and caused food shortages as well as malnutrition in 2016. The drought, which is continuing, although it has worsened by the impacts of El Niño, has been linked to the affects of climate change. It is also affecting more than 60 million people, and has resulted in acute malnutrition for 1.3 million children.

With us to discuss this topic that has been highly under-reported in Western media, is Nnimmo Bassey. He is a Nigerian architect, environmental activist, author and poet, who chaired the Friends of the Earth International, from 2009 to 2012, and was the Executive Director of the Environmental Rights Action, for two decades. He's also currently the Director of Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Nnimmo, thank you so much for joining us.

NNIMMO BASSEY: It's my pleasure to be with you.

KIM BROWN: First, is the crisis subsiding, or are we still seeing the devastating effects of the drought that was partly driven by El Niño last year? And are countries still in a state of water and food emergency?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah, the impact is really still very strong, unfortunately, especially in the Horn of Africa, in the area of Somalia, and as well as the Southern and parts of Eastern Africa. We have serious droughts in that region. And because, of course, when you have prolonged droughts, you also have the impact on agricultural production. So, we're having food shortages, apart from the usual water stress in this kind of period. It's having serious impacts on food that's available, as well as on the pastoralists, in operating and living in that part of the world.

Beyond the very intense droughts in the southern part of Southern Africa and up around the Horn, we also have threats of climate impacts in the Sahel region of Western Africa. So, it's actually a major challenge presently... (audio difficulty) the continent -- it's something that we thought would take us into a place, in the so-called African COP, African climate conference, that was held in Marrakech, Morocco, in November of last year. But we didn't really see sufficient action, taking into account the fact that this is actually an emergency situation.

KIM BROWN: So Nnimmo, how does this drought of 2016, that is obviously extending into the beginning part of 2017, how is this different from droughts of the past, in the Horn of Africa and East Africa?

NNIMMO BASSEY: What we're having now, and I believe it's a more... (audio difficulty) climates, a transition, climate change... (audio difficulty) and so, it appears that what we're seeing now, may actually not just be ... it may not be something that happens during... (audio difficulty) We used to have drought, periods of drought, then things would stabilize and become normal, but this appears to be something that may be more long-lasting than usual.

KIM BROWN: So Nnimmo, talk about the migration that is taking place in Africa due to climate change, and who is being impacted and affected the most?

NNIMMO BASSEY: The challenge for us is that in official circles, international circles, governments are refusing to acknowledge the fact that we actually have climate refugees. In Africa, there are many people who are forced to be called refugees, because of climate... (audio difficulty) the changes in the climate. And people are refusing, governments are refusing to acknowledge the fact that this... (audio difficulty) refugees, because they don't want to apply what is required in the conventions on refugees, and they don't want ... they want to deny access to people who are looking for refuge from the impacts of global warming.

And this has exposed many young people to try to get out of the continent, sometimes by any means possible. And thousands have lost their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Across the desert, Sahara Desert, for example. This is really a very dramatic representation of the fact that young people and women... (audio difficulty) especially the youths ... are most impacted, in terms of those who are looking for a way out of the drought-stricken areas.

So, we're having... (audio difficulty) so, those are the groups that are mostly impacted, happening to young people and the women. But, of course, the adult men are also impacted because -- the farmers, the pastoralists -- and farming is becoming increasingly challenged in parts of Eastern Africa and Southern Africa, because of the prolonged droughts that we've been having.

Now, if you come down to West Africa, I'm sure you know that it used to be one of the big inland lakes at the northeastern tip of Nigeria, Lake Chad, shared by Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon and Niger Republic. From the 1960s, Lake Chad was about 25,000 square kilometers big, and right now it's shrunk down to less than 10% of the original size. So, this has meant a displacement of pastoralists, of farmers, of fisher folks, and they're moving in various directions.

Sometimes this generates conflicts, and farmers and other places, so you have all these groups of people being impacted by climate, being displaced by climate. Of course, in the coastal area, for example, in the coastal part of Nigeria, the... (audio difficulty), that is one of the most polluted parts of the world, from oil extraction. We're having increasing loss of territory to sea level rise and coastal erosion.

So, it's really a very serious strike to the continent, and people are being displaced by ..., by floods, by coastal erosion and by water source shrinkage.

KIM BROWN: When we talk about aid to Africa, some make the case that what is being given in aid ignores that much more is actually being taken in terms of resource extraction, Nnimmo, like you just mentioned, in addition to land also being taken.

Can you talk about this disparity, about how much global aid is coming to Africa. But it really pales in comparison to what is being removed from Africa.

NNIMMO BASSEY: You really summarize the... so that's a good starting point. The aid, the so-called aid that is coming to Africa, is like a tip that you give to a waiter in the restaurant, who without even paying for the food that you are eating. You just pay a tip that doesn't go to the order of the food.

Africa is still being, unfortunately, as exploited as the continent has always been, in the various stages of her history. We're having an extremely irresponsible, neo-colonial system operating on the continent. With willing agents, local agents, who are, of course, working for the benefit of big capital.

So, the level of exploitation right now, and financial-ization of nature, is so high, that whenever anybody says is aid given to Africa, is just a way of making the politicians feel good, and then just keeping the books. There are many... (audio difficulty) we talk about, with regard to this, and sometimes we feel actually insulted by the argument being put forward that... (audio difficulty) even at a level of saying that African governments are irresponsible, are corrupt.

But actually the exploiters, the transnational corporations who are taking minerals, taking oil, taking land on the continent. These are the people, who are least transparent, and they are the ones who have sown the seed of corruption on the continent, and at the same time, generating conflicts and wars on the continent.

And one thing that we noticed... that no matter how much conflict you have in any ... region, the exploitation of natural resources continue apace, they never really slow down. And it's this we're having an increase of investment in ..., in infrastructure, and as usual, the infrastructures are all leading, the infrastructures are all leading to the areas where resources are being extracted.

For example, ... parkland, to take oil from somewhere inland to the seaport for export to Europe, or North America, or Asia or wherever, you build a railway line. They all go to the seaport, so we're having a kind of cargo culture being entrenched, where everything is taken for export and then other things are coming in as finished product or... (audio difficulty)...

So, it's really a deep cycle of exploitation that needs... (inaudible) by generations of leaders.

KIM BROWN: The Green Climate Fund was set up by the United Nations to assist developing countries to transition to renewable energy, and acknowledges that most developed economies, such as the United States, have contributed more to climate change and actually should pay for it. Can you talk about this issue, Nnimmo?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Yes. The Green Climate Fund, we all know, really became center stage in the failed Conference of ... Number 15, that took place in Copenhagen, in 2009. That was when the Copenhagen Accord was brought in, driven by the U.S. government, and the argument was that 10 billion would be raised every year up to 2020, when 100 billion would be raised a year from then.

Now, up to this moment, the target being set, which we're very happy ..., they were not based on a system of realities, the kind of climate impact that we have on the continent, the need for adaptation, and for building resilience, cannot be met by even those suggested figures, for the Green Climate Fund.

Again, the ... was presented as something that could appease, more or less, make people feel that something important is being done. I know when you look at the level of destruction, and you look at how much funds are being wasted in current warfare and military expenditure in the world. Where up to $2 trillion are being spent by the rich countries every year in military hardware and warfare, destroying infrastructure, destroying cities around the world. When you think about that, and when you consider that the world could not even raise anything close to $100 billion U.S. dollars for climate mitigation, and ..., then we can see that this is not anything meant to resolve the crisis. It is just a way of politicians making it seem like they're taking action, whereas they're actually doing nothing.

And any climate for the Green Climate Fund itself, ... (audio difficulty) access to the fund, you find that the vulnerable, the poor, the really deprived and impacted sectors of our continent, of small ... They may not easily have access to these funds. But rather, the corporations who are engaged in exploitation and actually engaged in actions that are compounding, climate impacts, may find it easier to have access to these funds.

So, the sad thing for me -- to sum it up -- is that if we build the Green Climate Fund on the so-called Paris Agreement, everything is just almost fiction, negligible. It would not be of any significant impact to address the issues at hand.

KIM BROWN: President-elect Donald Trump has said that he will pull out of the Paris Agreement, Nnimmo, and he also said that he would put the funds that President Obama has pledged to the Green Climate Fund, he would get rid of them. What would you say to him on why he should not renege on these commitments?

NNIMMO BASSEY: Following on what we've been hearing, coming from the President-elect of the United States, concerning climate change and many other issues, if you made a statement that President Obama, or that the U.S. would even pull out of the climate... positions, and he would put the money that they place somewhere else, I would not really be surprised.

But what I would like to say to the new president of the United States, is that it's actually in the best interests of the United States to not only put in that amount of money... (audio difficulty) to multiply, to really increase it, because if you support adaptation and mitigation around the world, then you have less to worry about in so many other things.

But, you know, the truth be told, the United States has never really been very supportive of efforts to tackle global warming. This goes back all the way to... (audio difficulty). The United States never signed (inaudible) protocol, and the (inaudible) Protocol was the only binding mechanism... emission reduction mechanism, that required that rich countries do something that's verifiable, measurable, to tackle to reduce emissions, and so tackle global warming.

For example, contribute to, (inaudible) claim that the coolant of the carbon that you're emitting to the atmosphere is being absorbed by a forest, or by soils somewhere else in the world, and so you don't take any action at all. The United States was (inaudible) was really the principal nation that aborted the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol, and brought to the Copenhagen Accord, and then they finally brought in the Paris Agreement.

All these are reductions and things that negates what is really needed to tackle global warming holistically, by all those who are more responsible for the action, rather than putting the load of the action on poor, vulnerable countries that never contributed anything to global warming.

For example, right now the Paris Agreement, emissions(?) are putting forward what is known as ... contributions to emission reduction, and these are just (inaudible) countries that... (inaudible) we can do. This is what we may do, this is what we may not do. And you find that in some of these countries that are really proposing they're going to... (inaudible) emissions are countries that emits little or nothing. And so, climate action is... (audio difficulty) loaded on poor victims. So, those who are polluting, the rich countries who are polluting, just go home, feeling that they're doing something, whereas really, they are not.

KIM BROWN: And on a slightly different but related topic, the recent discovery just this week of possibly the world's largest tropical peat land was found in the Congo Basin. Can you talk about the significance of this, and how it might further affect climate change? Because from what I understand, this is a carbon peat land, and the concern is that if somehow all of this carbon would be released into the atmosphere, it could be maybe catastrophic.

NNIMMO BASSEY: Definitely. But you see, the panic or the alarm being raised, to me, is a signal to again, cut off the people who live in the territory, in the Congo Basis, from utilizing the resources available to them. Now, when you say that the peat land is a story of the three years of global carbon emissions and so if the environment (inaudible) stopped, they're going to release methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. This is really a very big warning sign to me, that land-grabbing is about to be unleashed on that huge area, that is said to be bigger than England.

And so... (audio difficulty) is actually... well, technically it's true that this amount of carbon is there, but you know, we have to learn to look at forests and look at lands as lands, look at forests as forests, to look at land or (inaudible) or trees as carbon stock. The mentality of humanity to see nature, as items in a laboratory or the market shelf, is not helping humanity. You're not helping the planet. You're not helping anybody.

So, the people who live in the Congo Basin have managed their forest for centuries, for hundreds... for a long time, they have not stopped anything there, yet their communities maintain their forests, they maintain the land, the trees and everything about (inaudible). Human (inaudible) see themselves as part of nature, and not owners of nature.

So, I just want people -- should just stay away and not try and find reasons to lock people out of their territories and lands.

KIM BROWN: Nnimmo Bassey. He is a Nigerian architect. He's also an environmental activist, author and a poet. We've been discussing the ongoing drought in Africa that is having, not only a devastating effect on livestock and food accessibility, but over a million children have been suffering from malnutrition as a result of this extreme weather event that many attribute to climate change.

Nnimmo, we appreciate you joining us. Thank you so much.

NNIMMO BASSEY: It's been my pleasure to be with you. Thank you.

Last modified on Saturday, 08 April 2017 16:36

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