Sunday, 13 June 2010

Climate Change: Need to diffuse proactive Adaptation

Joachim Ezeji

There are growing fears that Climate Change presents another manner of external shock to the poor, and one of the ways to cushion the shock is possibly through the diffusion of adaptation measures as a proactive response. This is so because a great many of the poor men and women in urban, rural and peri-urban settings base their livelihoods on ‘informal activities’-----small-scale cropping, livestock rearing, agro-processing and other micro-enterprises.
In many of these activities, an adequate water supply is a crucial enabling resource: used in, or necessary for, the activity itself; freeing time (by reducing time spent collecting water); or as a key element in improved health that in turn enables people to work. Water supplies provided to households therefore have a huge potential to impact on poverty. This is particularly true for the poorest (and for women, who are in majority amongst the poorest).
Peoples’ water needs are typically met through multiple sources- from rainwater to waste-water to piped systems. Rarely do people rely on single sources as single sources tend to be used for multiple purposes. A review that builds on this reality in designing and service delivery to respond to extant exotic realities in the climate system is desired in order to meet peoples’ needs for households’ water supplies. This therefore underscores the fact that the challenges of water availability and water quality are intertwined with the challenges of food security, urbanization and environmental degradation. They stand in the way of poverty reduction and sustainable development.
The growing recognition of the serious gaps that already exist globally in access to safe drinking water and sanitation coupled with the overwhelming threat by climate change has exposed the need for innovative adaptation of appropriate technologies and measures in countries most at need. The adaptation processes need to increase the diffusion of technological innovations to the poor by highlighting how and overcoming the challenges of infrastructure and endemic traditional or cultural practices.

Adaptation actions offer a chance to decrease people’s vulnerability to the vagaries of climate change. This has become necessary because of the appreciation that existing gaps in water and sanitation services are embedded in the grinding realities of extreme poverty in regions with underdeveloped infrastructure, and in settings largely devoid of institutional mechanisms and cultural norms for fostering scalable interventions such as in Africa.

Regrettably discussions of how to address climate change have often focused far more on mitigation (reducing green house gas emissions) than adaptation (coping with the storms, floods, sea-level rise and other impacts that climate change brings). The limited discussions on adaptation have also given little attention to cities. But many cities in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are at high risk from climate change- even as they (or the nation in which they are located) have contributed very little to green house gas emissions.

There is every need now to discuss how to manage the impact of climate change on Nigeria’s urban water resources because of Nigeria’s high dependence upon natural resources. This vulnerability relates to many natural and human phenomena; including climate change and variability; pollution, population growth, water scarcity; and knowledge gaps. The development of an adaptation framework for these issues are urgently needed in Nigeria as in other parts of Africa, in order to alleviate the high risks faced by the country’s ecosystems, and to inform and strengthen the coping strategies of poor urban communities who may be less capable of adapting to climate change and other risks.
No doubt, water remains the most vital for human survival. Throughout Nigeria, people are becoming increasingly affected by the degradation of water sources. Disasters from floods, sanitary pollutions and droughts are ruining the lives and livelihood of many, and have recently been closely linked with global climate change. In this context is the fact that despite the critical importance of water resources to Nigeria, there have been very few studies of the effects of global warming or its management especially groundwater resources.
The effects of climate change have already been felt in many parts of the country with the modifications of the intensity and seasonal nature of the rains, the elevation of average annual temperatures, and the increased frequency of widespread, high impact weather phenomena including drought and flooding.
Floods in particular, especially in coastal cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt, and other parts of the country would still remain a major challenge because of the failure of leadership in these cities. Buildings, roads, infrastructure and other paved areas now obstruct natural drainage channels while greed have eclipsed provision for and use of parks and other open spaces as places to safely accommodate flood water from unusually serious storms. The result today is that rainfalls no longer easily infiltrate the soil- hence huge run-off. Worsening the situation is that heavy or prolonged rainfall now rapidly overwhelms most of our cities’ poorly maintained and insufficient drainage systems as those existing are full of silt and clogged with garbage.
As a cross-sectional element, water remains a central part of any vulnerability analyses dealing with climate change. Associated with drought and flood risk, water is a challenge represented by the increasing scarcity of the liquid so essential for human life. There is therefore need for the rational use of water in the broadest sense—including water saving and reuse and the recharging of aquifers etc.
In this context are the traditional problems of decaying water treatment plants and water pipes, insufficient capacity, and poor quality and quantity of water supply; lack of management capacity because of neglecting non-technical factors; weak financial structure and difficulty of new investments, because of high rate of non-revenue water, low water fees which cannot recover the costs, and over staffing, etc that are common in most water utilities in Nigeria.
A typical case is the Lagos State Water Corporation. Here, the water distribution network can only reach one in every three of the 15 million inhabitants of the city. Yet, they projected population growth of 4% per annum of the city means that the city’s water demand, will double by the year 2020. The cost of meeting current and projected demand has been put at around $2.5 billion over the next 20 years.
Generally, cities in Africa are worse hit because they do not only have limited means with which to expand the water, and maintain the quality but they also need to expand water supply services to meet the ever increasing needs of industry and to support growing population with varying distribution of population and settlement patterns in rural and urban settings. The consequence is that as the world remains on track to meeting the 2015 MDG water targets, disparities continue in sub-Saharan Africa which has the lowest coverage and is not on track for the MDG target.
There is therefore the need to cushion the shock by the diffusion of adaptation measures as a proactive response because the failure to act would heighten the risk of severe damage to the economy and other physical, chemical, and biological systems; all with severe negative consequences for Nigerians. This should start with a vulnerability analysis of the impacts of climate change and the putting in place of a viable action plan with efficient adaptation measures in every state of the country.

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