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Why is Africa’s rising death toll from extreme weather events going unreported?

Africa has faced a devastating year due to extreme weather events. 15,000 lives were lost and the figures are likely greater.

By groundreportdesk
New Update
Why is Africa’s rising death toll from extreme weather events going unreported?

In an era of increasing climate change, Africa is facing a silent crisis. Extreme weather events, intensified by global warming, are causing widespread devastation across the continent. Yet, these events often go unreported, leaving the true scale of their impact largely unknown.

According to a recent investigation by CarbonBrief, Africa has experienced a devastating year in terms of extreme weather events, resulting in the loss of over 15,000 lives in 2023. This figure is a significant increase from the 4,000 deaths recorded in 2022. However, these numbers only represent the reported incidents. The actual figures are likely to be much higher.

The CarbonBrief report sheds light on the numerous extreme weather events that have plagued Africa throughout 2023, leading to widespread destruction and tragic loss of life.

An analysis by the International Rescue Committee and the World Resources Institute identified seven out of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate disasters as being in Africa. Vulnerability is determined by low "climate readiness" and high "fragility."

Why are African weather extremes often unnoticed?

Africa, responsible for 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, experienced a range of extreme weather disasters in 2023, affecting every part of the continent.

The most lethal event in 2023 was Libya’s “medicane”-fuelled floods, which resulted in more than 11,300 deaths. Other deadly incidents include flash floods in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda that killed over 3,000 people. In addition to these fatalities, at least 34 million people have been affected by extreme weather disasters in Africa in 2023.

The number of weather stations per million square kilometers for each continent. Source: World Meteorological Organization/Verner Viisainen, Carbon Brief.

Despite the severity of these events, many fail to make international news. This lack of coverage can be attributed to several factors. One reason is that extreme weather events such as heatwaves often occur in combination with droughts. These conditions can lead to food insecurity and humanitarian crises, which tend to overshadow the weather events themselves.

Another factor is the lack of functioning weather stations recording data in certain regions. This makes it difficult for scientists to assess the role of climate change in these disasters and hampers efforts to develop effective response mechanisms.

The underreporting of extreme weather events in Africa underscores a broader issue: the vulnerability of marginalized communities to climate change. These communities often lack the resources and infrastructure to cope with extreme weather events and are disproportionately affected by their impacts.

From droughts and Heatwaves to Floods and Storms

One of the most pressing challenges faced by the continent is the increasing frequency and severity of droughts and heatwaves. In countries such as Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, prolonged dry spells devastated agricultural production, resulting in failed harvests and widespread famine. The scarcity of food and water forced thousands of people to migrate in search of basic necessities, exacerbating an already dire situation.

People affected by the worsening humanitarian situation caused by one of the most extreme El Niño weather phenomena. Photo Credit: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid/Flickr

Africa also experienced a surge in destructive floods and storms in 2023. Countries like Mozambique, Nigeria, and South Africa were particularly affected. Heavy rainfall and inadequate infrastructure led to severe flooding, causing significant damage to homes, infrastructure, and livelihoods. The loss of life was particularly devastating, with many unable to escape the sudden and overwhelming deluge.

The CarbonBrief report highlights the devastating impact of cyclones and hurricanes on African communities. In 2023, countries such as Madagascar and Mauritius faced the wrath of powerful cyclones, resulting in widespread destruction and loss of life. These extreme weather events not only claimed lives but also displaced thousands of people, leaving them vulnerable and in need of urgent assistance.

2023 unusual worldwide

According to Dr Izidine Pinto, a climate scientist from Mozambique who is currently working at the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute, the year 2023 has been unusual worldwide. He stated that in Africa, almost every month, record monthly temperatures were recorded. He also added that El Niño is associated with below-average rainfall in many parts of Africa, particularly in southern Africa.

Dr Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist from Kenya who is currently working at the Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, also expressed her concern over the extreme weather events in Africa.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

She said that climate change is disrupting the climate system, making it challenging, difficult, and dangerous for climate scientists to understand what is happening. Every time they think they have understood the system, things keep changing, making it difficult to inform the public about the risks they can anticipate and how they need to prepare.

Impacts on agriculture and Livelihoods

The extreme weather events in Africa have had a profound impact on agriculture and livelihoods. The disruption of farming activities due to droughts and floods has led to decreased food production, increased food prices, and heightened food insecurity. These weather extremes have hit small-scale farmers, who form the backbone of many African economies, the hardest, decimating their crops and livestock.

The CarbonBrief report highlights the escalating humanitarian crisis caused by extreme weather events in Africa. The loss of life, destruction of infrastructure, and displacement of communities have strained already limited resources. Over 15,000 lives lost in 2023 alone is a tragic testament to the urgent need for comprehensive disaster response mechanisms and increased funding to support affected communities.

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