The Platform

Andy Hall/Oxfam

East Africa and the Horn of Africa are now facing a 3rd consecutive drought since 2020. So, we are seeing compounding effects, including those of the locust crisis that was the worst outbreak in 70 years and caused up to $8 billion in lost food. As many as 20 million people in the four countries of the Horn of Africa are now facing severe food shortages.

In this region where livestock and agriculture are the mainstays, 1.5 million head of cattle have died. At a reserved price of $200 per head, communities have lost more than $300 million of their capital by February. This is in addition to, by some estimates, a 70% fall in cereal production. Food prices have also skyrocketed, with harvests as low as 70% below normal levels. Therefore, the situation is very dire, and these droughts have the general effect of reversing the socio-economic gains of the people of this region.

What impact climate change has on the current drought situation?

The current drought is attributed to La Niña conditions, an extreme climate effect that has been ongoing since 2020. Under the changing climate, the intensity and frequency of these extreme events are projected to increase. The science from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report recorded that the globe is set to breach the safe 1.5°C warming within a decade.

This will lead to an increased frequency of droughts and the growth of hyper-arid and arid areas. Meaning more fierce droughts lie ahead. Climate change will continue to exacerbate these dire effects, especially now considering that the globe is on track to breach the safe 1.5°C warming in just 2 decades and with Africa warming faster than the rest of the globe.

How to deal with droughts and contain them and help the people of the affected nations.

What is needed is an entire paradigm shift in the approach to addressing these droughts. We urgently need to move away from the knee-jerk approach to embrace a longer-term approach that builds the resilience of communities from the ground up.

While climate change is global, the poor are always disproportionately vulnerable because they lack the resources to afford alternatives to buffer themselves when disasters strike. The core of long-term resilience-building is socioeconomics. If communities are empowered socioeconomically, they stand a better chance of buffering themselves against the losses and vulnerabilities caused by droughts. This must be weaved into the livelihoods of these communities, and how climate action can be a provider of practical solutions to this end calls for the following steps.

First, a paradigm shift in the narrative of climate action must be fostered, where we divest from projecting liability to projecting investment opportunities. And this will work best if we embrace what I call “mitigation powering adaptation.” Across Africa, including in the Horn of Africa, most climate commitments popularly called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) front clean energy and agriculture as the leading priorities. Clean energy is the leading mitigation priority, while sustainable agriculture is the leading adaptation priority. What is needed is a narrative change that premises actions in these areas as socially driven where returns are measured as social impact, to financial investment-driven – where returns are measured in financial dividends.

To give an example, some communities have lost over $300 million in livestock wasting due to the drought so far. Decentralizing solar dryers as a mitigation action to enable these communities to prepare and dry the meat from their animals before they die off means generating incomes while mitigating against emissions that compound climate change. Solar dryers have been shown to increase the shelf-life of crop yields and, by this, enhance market opportunities and increase earnings by up to 30 times. The Horn of Africa needs to make this narrative the norm at all levels of decision-making to have communities embrace these climate action solutions as investments that will enhance their financial bottom lines. Not social actions for consumption.

The second is leveraging local communal institutions as conduits to mobilize investments for solutions. We need to ask ourselves how communities in the Horn of Africa can access the financial systems that are most accessible to them. Accordingly, local communal cooperatives need to be activated among communities in this region through targeted incentives such as awareness-raising and other market incentives such as buying of products strictly through cooperatives. Through such structures, any income generated gets invested and pooled to enable communities to afford better higher-order value addition solutions they need to drive their livelihoods. The solar dryers I mentioned earlier are a perfect example.

Third, local private-public partnerships to drive value-added solutions. Infrastructure for value addition such as solar dryers, solar irrigation, water harvesting, etc., are critical to unlocking livelihood opportunities in the region. Such dry areas are capital expenditures that are out of reach of communities. But governments working with communities in local private-public partnerships can generate symbiotic collaborations where governments make capital investments in this shared infrastructure, and communities saving and investing through cooperatives take charge of such infrastructure’s operational and maintenance costs.

For example, an abattoir set up by the government to enable meat processing for communities who then re-invest through the cooperatives to operate and maintain the abattoir will go a long way to ensure community ownership of such solutions. The same logic applies to community solar dryers, where giant dryers can be set up to enable shared preservation services, solar cold storage, or solar-powered irrigation and water harvesting. The point is to generate this symbiosis between the government as providers of large-scale shared value addition infrastructure and communities who run and maintain this infrastructure through their earnings from value addition.

Fourth is leveraging local governance structures for accountability and traceability of progress. What can’t be measured can’t be done. Across Africa, the accountability and traceability of development actions continue to linger.

But local governance structures trusted by communities and which command the respect of locals can go a long way in tracing the impact of interventions. Ensuring interventions are delivered through local cooperatives and supervised by local governance structures will go a long way in accounting for and evaluating effect at the local level and making targeted interventions to prioritize what works.

Fifth, data for policy. Data of what has proven to work at the ground level is very critical towards informing targeted policy to ensure incentives are targeted at actions and actors that have proven most impactful. This active feedback loop of what has been empirically proven to work on the ground in establishing the long-term resilience of communities in the region is critical to ensure incentives are targeted at upscaling proven success stories.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

Dr. Richard Munang is the United Nations Environment Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator. He is responsible for guiding the optimal actualisation of UN Environment’s climate resilient development objectives for Africa through coordinating implementation of diverse projects in adaptation and mitigation in key economic sectors especially agriculture, and energy as well as informing strategy and policy development from project lessons.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.