SLOGANS, MANTRA, HASTAGS and catchphrases are not in short supplies in international assemblies where serious global issues are major subjects of debates, deliberations and discussions nowadays. They don’t have to meet expectations, but they attempt to railroad discussions; and they sometimes provide emotional and sentimental punch for issues under consideration. It is thus better to have one slogan instead of none at all. The 2019 climate meeting was no exception.
The rise in turbulent tide of civil unrest in Chile warranted the shift of the wave of the “Blue COP” meeting from Santiago to Madrid in Spain where issues considered critical to our oceans were to be outlined, debated and decisions hammered out on ways to effect climate mitigation and adaption while protecting and restoring the oceans to what experts consider as acceptable status.
The assembly, which went into an overtime of two extra days, obviously couldn’t achieve all it originally set out to do during the summit. More importantly, it appeared to have commenced its ‘blue’ campaign from the more complex while ignoring the simpler. The inland water bodies that have more immediate and measurable impacts on the large vulnerable populations in the developing world seemed to be less of a priority, or a second-rate priority, going by the disposition of the summiteers.
Considering the future of the world food security, the sheer size of Africa in terms of population and land mass, the water bodies in Africa and the fate that awaits them are worth the attention of the summiteers. So is the case with Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, all of which face great challenges of water supplies. It is important to be curious about what African participants at the COP meetings generally, and the ‘blue COP’ meeting in particular, had on their minds as they travelled to attend such summits.
To know that they merely prepare position papers in line with agenda drawn up from people elsewhere in the world is to show that African summiteers at COP meetings are far from being in touch with the realities back at home. Or, it could be argued that they are unprepared to state their own cases rather very strongly. If they really want to, the crisis of main water bodies in the continent of Africa should be a key issue to strongly campaign and sponsor at the ‘blue COP’ summit.
With the global expectation that Africa is the last hope for the world’s future food security, the unfolding events are rather unsettling. Africa is said to have 60 per cent of global uncultivated arable land. That’s fine. But what about the climatic conditions that would or would not render this swathe of land cultivable in the future? How separate are these from the actual landmass available? High-sounding pronouncements have been made, celebrating the prospects of Africa in future global food security. But the other issues that need deeper and more introspective consideration are pointing in the opposite direction.
The ‘blue COP’ proponents seem to ignore the climate impacts on aquatic resources in Africa and the need to embark on aggressive drive towards halting the drift. Africa’s great lakes are facing a crisis. The impacts of this can be far-reaching. Lake Chad is shrinking, Lake Tanganyika is threatened by global warming, Lake Victoria is running out of fish, Kariba Dam is dwindling in volume and the Victoria Falls upstream is facing unprecedented reduction as a result of drought.
Africa, as a less developed continent, is faced with a number of challenges. The economy is, essentially and predominantly, rural and commodity-based. It is also mainly agrarian, which means it is climate-dependent. To this extent, Africa’s water bodies require deep urgent consideration as major drivers of the agrarian economy. It needs to be considered as a major contributor to the continent’s tourism industry and a backbone for industrialisation through its contribution to electricity generation.
The East African economy is taking an unprecedented hit as Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s oldest and deepest lake, and the world’s longest lake is being depleted of life as waters warm and loss of biodiversity takes a turn for the worse, with the added complications caused by over-fishing. The livelihoods and food security status of the population around the lake are threatened as climate change has been the key cause of the decline of fisheries in east Africa’s Lake Tanganyika rather, as a new study has found.
The four countries sharing lake are Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania and Zambia, with RDC and Tanzania holding 45 and 41 per cent respectively. The lake’s fish are a very significant part of the protein supplies, providing 60 per cent of the animal protein for those countries, as well as an important biodiversity hotspot.
A 2016 report published by rfi had it that “the lake on average produces 200,000 tonnes of fish a year, for millions of people in the area…..” Quoting Pierre-Denis Plisnier, an agronomic engineer, specialised in the Great Lakes, the report inferred that the lake “can have quite an impact on the food production for a lot of people.” The report made a case “to increase regulations on fishing so that’s it’s done with the most appropriate methods so that, in addition to global warming, you don’t also have the problem of overexploitation that may occur in some areas of the lake.”
Another report that amplified the climate alarm was the New Scientist report of 2016, which noted rather grimly that “we have known that the warming climate is transforming lakes worldwide, but a lack of consistent climate and fishery data from the tropics has meant that little was known about how lakes in the region were affected.” This is why the ‘blue COP’ champions needed to have considered inland water bodies in general and Africa’s water bodies, which are mostly tropical, in particular.
It is instructive to give detailed consideration to Africa as the ecological consequences of climate change for other lakes in Africa are no less important. Therefore, other Great Lakes in the continent are expected to have similar experiences. A June 2017 report by BBC disclosed also that millions of people rely on Lake Tanganyika for their livelihoods. But this second largest lake in Africa has been designated the “most threatened lake of the year” 2017 by the Global Nature Fund as a result of the effects of climate change, over-fishing and deforestation.
As we put the cases of some notable African lakes in perspectives, it is important to remind the ‘blue COP’ promoters that Africa’s rivers and lakes are central to the continent’s economy and people’s livelihoods. Any mitigation solutions considered for climate crises elsewhere would not be all-encompassing enough if Africa’s water bodies are left out. The real blue is the one that brings the oceans and inland water bodies under the same umbrella.