Osman Ali grew up near southern Shabelle’s Shabelle River, once deep enough to dive for a swim. But for the past three years, the drought has diluted it to a dirty stream. After his sheep and goats had been reduced to skins and bones, and his corn and sesame crops withered in the fields, he was left to armed blackmailers, whom he could not pay. The 29-year-old sold his family’s land and bought a ticket to Brazil. A two-month trek through jungles, rivers and cities brought him to Tapachula, Mexico, hoping to reach the U.S. southern border.
Like him, Ibrahima Coulibaly was in Tapachula, hanging around in the stifling heat of a sidewalk outside the city’s immigration office in a yellow Lakers basketball jersey. He left his home near Tambacounda in eastern Senegal when he could no longer operate his five-hectare land. A series of droughts devastated his millet, peanut and bean crops, leaving his family with little to eat and prompting him to sell his 32 head of cattle and embark on a long journey to America. When he arrived in Brazil earlier this year and was robbed in Darien Gap – the dense jungle between Colombia and Panama infested with poisonous snakes and bandits – he was desperately waiting for permission to continue crossing Mexico to reach the US border.
“At some point, it’s better to take than to stay; you can walk until you die, but you can not just sit still until you die of hunger,” the 37-year-old said in an April interview. years are worse than the previous one. ”
The number of Africans trying to reach the U.S. southern border is set to hit a potential record this year. Many who come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Senegal, Ghana, Somalia and elsewhere are escaping climate-damaging climate events. The continent they are fleeing is facing natural disasters at a faster pace than the rest of the planet and is largely unprepared to deal with them. Africa, which has done the least to cause the global climate crisis – which produces only 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions – is hit by record storms, floods and droughts as the earth warms. It causes millions to migrate, mostly to urban slums on the continent, but also to Europe and the United States.
By 2050, 86 million Africans, or about 6.6% of the region’s 1.3 billion people, will be forced to migrate by climate change, the World Bank estimates. It is on top of those fleeing conflict and persecution – often associated with climate-related skirmishes over scarce resources. And with Africa’s population expected to double by 2050, those numbers can only increase.
The vast majority of climate victims migrate to other parts of their own country or spill into a neighboring nation, but those who can scrape together some funds go further afield. With over 4,500 Africans crossing the border between Colombia and Panama between January and April this year, they have become, according to the International Organization for Migration, the second largest group – after Latin Americans – trying to reach the US border. And while Europe has tightened controls, over 89,000 people crossed the Sahara Desert in northern Niger in the first two months of this year, according to the IOM. A large majority were on their way to – or on their way back from – Algeria and Libya, the worn road to Europe, with nine out of 10 people IOM spoke to citing climate change as one of the reasons they traveled.
“People are like ‘OK, I can not live here, I might as well die trying to get somewhere else,'” said Ayaan Adam, CEO of AFC Capital Partners, the unit in the infrastructure-focused Africa Finance Corp. that is to raise $ 500 million for a climate resilience fund this year. “This is happening now. We’re seeing a preview of the film that will roll and that will increase in intensity.”
Helping Africans stay home by making the continent sustainable has a huge cost – $ 1 trillion to “climate-proof” the infrastructure it needs, which in itself would cost $ 2.3 trillion, estimates Adam. China, the United States and Europe, which together produce more than 50% of the world’s emissions, should help fund this effort, say African leaders.
“This is not a donation, this is a cleaning fee,” Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera said at COP26 in Glasgow in November.
Rich countries can limit refugees at their borders by helping the continent adapt to climate change, said Lisa Lim Ah Ken, a migration and climate change specialist for East Africa at the IOM.
“Developed nations are spending huge national budgets on building walls and creating and monitoring immigration policies that prevent migration, but if these budgets were invested in the nations and societies suffering from the effects of climate change, supporting their sustainable development, then perhaps forced migration would be reduced, ”said Lim Ah Ken.
It is more than a decade ago that rich countries committed themselves to helping the world’s poorer nations reduce emissions and adapt to climate change by up to $ 100 billion a year. That goal they have yet to reach.
African leaders estimate that adapting to climate change – by consolidating coastlines against rising sea levels, combating desertification and building climate-resistant roads and bridges – will require an annual $ 33 billion, Patrick Verkooijen, CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation or GCA, said in an interview. from Rotterdam. While the countries themselves can raise $ 6 billion, they only get an additional $ 6 billion in aid, he said.
“This is a must have, not nice to have, for Africa,” Verkooijen said, adding that adaptation funding will be a key focus of the November COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.
The climate adaptation money that is flowing in right now is too insignificant to make a difference. The African Development Bank has a fund with contributions from Europe and Canada, but has only disbursed $ 8 million for small operations in 16 countries. An ambitious project – the Great Green Wall initiative, which aims to stop desertification by planting trees across Africa – has received pledges of over $ 19 billion from organizations across the globe. But progress has been slow.
Extreme weather events have exploded in Africa. The Horn of Africa is currently experiencing the worst drought in at least four decades, putting 16 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia in danger and raising the ghost of famine. In May, South Africa’s deadliest floods in nearly three decades triggered landslides that killed 435 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
The number of floods in Africa has increased fivefold since the 1990s, according to the GCA. By 2020, the most severe flood in Sudan in 60 years displaced more than 500,000 people. In 2019, two of the strongest cyclones ever recorded hit East Africa. Cyclone Idai destroyed 90% of the houses in the city of Beira in Mozambique and damaged 1.4 million hectares (3.6 million acres) of arable land in Zimbabwe. It was followed by Cyclone Kenneth. Together, they killed 1,300 people and affected the lives of 3.5 million more.
The floods that followed the cyclones provoked the worst locust attack in a quarter of a century, leaving 9.6 million people in Sudan without enough food and causing thousands of Somali farmers to migrate. Africa loses 4 million hectares of forest every year due to soil degradation, Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% in the last 40 years and the glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro are melting.
“Climate change is costing African economies between 3% and 5% of their GDP,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told the African Union on 6 February. the load and the cost. The financial flows needed to enable developing countries in particular to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change remain very inadequate. ”
African leaders have not helped, treating climate-driven problems as a “peripheral problem,” said Saliem Fakir, executive director of the African Climate Foundation. “Governments treat it as an environmental issue that is largely to be supported by donor assistance and not really integrated into the economic debate.” Poor planning, deforestation and misuse of development funds have made things worse.
In an index of 182 countries rated by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative for Vulnerability to Climate Change, the bottom seven are African. It comes from the continent’s overwhelming dependence on subsistence agriculture. About half of Africa’s population is dependent on agriculture. In the eastern parts of the continent, that number rises to 70%. There is a little irrigation, which leaves the peasants at the mercy of the rain.
Too many potential climate refugees are poor crops where their migration journeys begin. Mouhoumoudane Mohamed, 34, from a village in the Agadez region of Niger, traveled to Algeria in 2019 in hopes of coming to Europe.
“One bad harvest followed the other; the sparse crops that could be squeezed out of the ground were not enough, ”said Mohamed. “The problem in Agadez is the lack of water. When it rains, it’s never enough. Or it’s too heavy and destroys the crops.”
He failed, and is back in Agadez, and keeps trying again – so far.
A record 4.3 million people were displaced in 2020 in sub-Saharan Africa alone due to weather events and conflicts, the GCA estimates. Migration within the continent creates its own problems. Desperate farmers moving to greener pastures are causing conflict with communities that are already there. Even with few opportunities, young people join Islamist militants – and provide fodder for groups that Europe and the United States are trying to fight.
Africa’s fast-growing cities, to which many of the continent’s poor are attracted, are experiencing their own climate – related problems. About half of Africans now live in cities, and the urban population is expected to nearly triple by 2050, according to the GCA. 79 African cities, including 15 national capitals, are at extreme risk of climate change, according to Catlyne Haddaoui, a global policy and research director at the Washington-based Coalition for Urban Transitions.
“A rise of 2 degrees Celsius in the average world temperature does not have the same effect in Nigeria as it does in the United States, where you have air conditioning from your car to your office to your house and everywhere,” Haddaoui said. “It would be much harder to deal with in Africa and much more deadly.”
With extreme weather likely to only intensify and cause more people to migrate, “developed countries have both a responsibility and an interest in helping some of the most vulnerable countries,” said Taylor Dimsdale, director of Risk and Resilience at E3G, a climate thinker. tank.
It can prevent migrants like Ali from knocking on their doors. The Somali farmer waited in Tapachula, about 900 miles from the nearest U.S. border, to reach the last stretch of his journey to America. As climate change destroys his livelihood, he is eager to start over somewhere else.
“We depend on the rain and the river, but there was no water,” Ali said. “We lost everything.”
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