Growing climate related disasters in Africa justify Meles Zenawi’s threats

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Over 70 people have been killed and about 430 000 others displaced from their homes after several weeks of torrential rains. The UN fears a looming humanitarian catastrophe. African leaders believe that this unusual outburst of nature is linked to the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, blamed for global warming, and are demanding compensation from rich countries, the principal polluters. Africa, the hardest hit by the consequences of climate change, has contributed little to this phenomenon. This issue will be raised by the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, at the global environmental summit scheduled to take place in Copenhagen at the end of the year.

The death toll, following record floods of the West African rainy season, is heavy. Over people seventy have been reported dead. In recent weeks, torrential rains have hit seven countries in the West African sub-region; Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Guinea and Burkina Faso. The raging waters left ruin in its wake, affecting houses, grain reserves, farms, roads and telecommunications. Some 430 000 people in six countries have lost their homes.

Last Tuesday, Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, recorded 330 millimetres of water. A level that has never been reached in the country. Ten hours of uninterrupted rains killed several people and destroyed 24 000 homes, making 150 000 people homeless. In an effort to salvage the housing crisis created by the floods, several thousands of people have been accommodated in schools under a government programme. The Burkinabe government says that stadia around the country will be mobilised to hold the ever increasing victims. According to the UN, the displaced live in deplorable conditions. The main hospital in the country, Yalgado hospital, with some 600 beds was evacuated after it was affected by the floods, further complicating the treatment of the injured. According to the country’ Prime Minister Tertius Zongo, it is the worst disaster ever experienced by the city.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed fears of a looming epidemic and food crisis in the sub-region.

Meles Zenawi threats justified

A cycle of droughts and floods causing serious humanitarian problems including food crisis, health issues and displacements, among others, have caused a lot of hue and cry among both African environmentalists and politicians. They argue that although Africa’s contribution to the greenhouse emissions, that have led to the climate disaster, is largely insignificant, the poor continent is paying for the excesses of richer nations. In 2007, similar floods killed 300 people and affected some 800 000 people in West Africa alone. This year, the Southern African region was hit by the worst floods in 50 years — according to estimates from the Red Cross — affecting over a million people and killing hundreds of people. In 2006, the horn of Africa was hit by severe floods, which the UN estimated as the worst in the region for 50 years. It affected over 1.8 million people. Two years later, the same region suffered a severe drought that affected about 13 million people, according to Oxfam (a UK-based humanitarian group) estimates.

It is to this effect that African leaders are demanding a cause and effect link to be recognised at the Summit on Climate Change scheduled to take place in December in Copenhagen, the Danish capital. Their objective is to seek financial compensation, which, according to some experts, could be around 200 billion dollars per year. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi recently warned that should this request not be taken into account, representatives of Africa would walk out of the Copenhagen conference. “If needs be we are prepared to walk out of any negotiations that threaten to be another rape of our continent,” he said. Chosen as the African mouth piece for the Copenhagen summit, Mr. Zenawi, whose country has suffered repeated droughts, the cause of long periods of famine, says “Africa will not be there to express its participation by merely warming the chairs or to make perfunctory speeches and statements.”

Meanwhile, as Africa’s chances of survival are lessening by the minute, total indifference expressed by some so called experts have served to give a voice to critics of climate change who have ignored the human disaster related to climate change, and instead exploited the related commercial and financial repercussions. Jay Timmons, executive vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers in the US, has argued that a legislation that was narrowly passed in by U.S. lawmakers in June to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions will cost the U.S. economy a lot of money and benefit China and India. According to him an environmental bill would do more economic harm than environmental good. He also indicated that “the bill’s new taxes and regulations would penalize American businesses, putting them at a disadvantage in competing with those countries”. Mr. Timmons avoided any mention of the positive effect the bill could have on dying poplations in Africa, while basing his arguments on economic gains.

Last year, the Ethiopian premier stated that while “the hope is that we will do enough to avoid global warming from crossing the tipping point, our (Africa) contribution to global warming is negligible. The impact it has on us is far from negligible,” saying that his country, like most African states, were left to deal with the adverse effects of climate change, which created an increment in tropical diseases such has malaria and the sleeping sickness. Ethiopia is demanding that the rich countries, whose industrialisation has created the effects of climate change, immediately take responsibility for their action. “We will never accept any global deal that does not limit global warming to the minimum unavoidable level, no matter what levels of compensation and assistance are promised to us,” Mr. Zenawi said at the Africa Partnership Forum, which took place last week.

On its part, the World Meteorological Organization is more concerned with a preventive measure that involves a billion dollar investment required to upgrade meteorological services, including, early warning systems and tools to facilitate data collection, to enable African countries anticipate the effects of climate change.

Priority: Disaster assistance

But in the meantime, affected countries are more concerned with disaster relief. Burkina Faso has appealed for national and international aid. Rehabilitation will require about 106 million euros, says the Prime Minister of Burkina Faso. The ECOWAS Commission has promised to lend its support to member states who have been affected by the flood. But so far, no money has been disbursed to this effect.

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