Extreme fluctuations between drought, flooding devastating millions of lives, research reveals
Addis Ababa, November 17, 2023 (FBC) – Millions of people around the world living in poverty have been experiencing a ‘climate hazard flip’ since the turn of the century, an exclusive new research finding sent to FBC from WaterAid reveals.
This comes at a pivotal moment, as world leaders prepare to meet in Dubai for COP28, it was emphasized.
Accompanied by powerful satellite imagery, the analysis of climate data released by WaterAid and Cardiff and Bristol Universities finds that under a ‘whiplash’ of extreme climate pressures, areas that used to experience frequent droughts are now more prone to frequent flooding, while other regions historically prone to flooding now endure more frequent droughts – having a devastating effect on communities in these regions.
Over the last two decades, areas in Pakistan, Burkina Faso and Northern Ghana – normally associated with hotter, drier conditions – have flipped to become increasingly wetter and flood-prone. By contrast, the southern Shabelle region of Ethiopia, which between 1980 and 2000 experienced numerous periods of flooding, now shows a shift towards prolonged and severe drought. The drier Shabelle River – a major water source for Somalia – recently experienced the worst of the drought conditions in the Horn of Africa but ended with a major flood in April this year. It is a phenomenon mirrored in Northern Italy where the data shows the number of intense dry spells experienced by both countries has more than doubled since 2000. But these are punctuated by risks of extreme flooding, as the Lombardy floods of May and July this year illustrate.
The innovative research examined the frequency and magnitude of flooding and drought hazards over the last 41 years in locations across six countries where WaterAid works: Pakistan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mozambique, adding Italy for a European comparison to address the fact that the impacts of climate change do not discriminate by region.
Communities exposed to these extremes are often ill-equipped to deal with them. WaterAid warns that failure to act on climate adaptation at COP28 could condemn people in the worst affected areas to ending the water, sanitation and hygiene crisis together for everyone, everywhere. Entrenched poverty, displacement, disease and potentially even conflict, as issues leading to water and food scarcity, are made worse by catastrophic and changeable climatic extremes.
“The climate crisis is a water crisis and, as our research today shows, our climate has become increasingly unpredictable with devastating consequences. While we will all pay a price for global water stress, it’s those living on the frontline of the climate crisis that are paying for it now – their lives hanging in the balance,” said Tim Wainwright, WaterAid’s Chief Executive.
He added that COP28 is only two weeks away and hopes that leaders recognise the urgency and prioritise investment into robust and resilient water systems now.
Co-lead researcher Prof Katerina Michaelides, Professor of Dryland Hydrology at the University of Bristol Cabot Institute for the Environment, added, “We have come to understand that climate change will not lead to a monolithic change to climatic hazards, despite globally increasing temperatures. Instead, the hazard profile for any region is likely to change in unpredictable ways. These factors must be considered to support climate adaptation for the lives and livelihoods of humans across the globe.”
From flood protection to drought resistance measures – adaptation solutions exist, but not enough is being done to prepare for this future. Scaling up and optimising water-related investments in low and middle-income countries will not only save lives, it will boost economic prosperity – with analysis suggesting it can deliver at least $500 billion a year in economic value.
“For the world’s most vulnerable, this is a matter of life or death. We cannot let climate change wash away peoples’ futures,” Tim said.
Water Aid calls on world leaders at COP28 this year to prioritise clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene as a key component to climate adaptation programmes as well as rapidly scale up in investment in water security in low- and middle-income countries: