Impact of climate change on food security in the Nile and Niger basins

Submitted by Susanna Tol | published 18th Jun 2014 | last updated 6th Jul 2014
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Background

Ensuring access to sufficient food that meets the needs for an active and healthy life is an issue in many rural areas of Africa where rain-fed agriculture is the major economic resource. 

The Niger and Nile basins are areas with high water stress and suffering increasing competition for water resources. For that reason these regions are in focus under a large EU-funded project called IMPACT2C which seeks to systematically quantify climate impacts, vulnerabilities, risks and economic costs as well as potential adaptive responses under a global average surface temperature change of 2°C. 

Global warming may cause fluctuations in the occurrence, duration and resulting impact of droughts in rural areas.  Strategies for adaptation will have to be developed to cope with new variable drought conditions rather than with constant trends.  In light of climate variability and change, the development of adaptation plans that prevent the impact of adverse environmental conditions remains a priority.

Scenarios of food security for the Nile and Niger basins

For IMPACT2C, rainfall and potential evapotranspiration data from 10 Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP4.5) scenarios have been used as an input to Africa Risk View. The RCP4.5 scenario (details below) assumes a global population that reaches 9 billion in 2070 and then gradually declines; the use of renewables and nuclear energy will increase; the emission of greenhouse gases will be priced in order to reduce them. With these assumption, the RCP4.5 scenario implies a stable greenhouse-gas concentration at 650ppm CO2-equivalent by the end of this century, which corresponds to a stable radiative forcing of 4.5 W/m2. According to the analysis conducted during IMPACT2C, a consistently positive temperature trend is very likely to warm our planet above the +2°C within the next 50/60 years. However, the question of how a rather constant and positive trend in global temperature will translate into changes in the water cycle and in the impact on drought patterns is not as easily answered. 

Africa Risk View

IMPACT2C works in collaboration with the African Risk Capacity (ARC) Project initiated by the African Union with technical assistance from the UN World Food Programme.

The ARC project licensed IMPACT2C for using Africa RiskView (ARV), a software platform that was developed as a tool to translate satellite-based rainfall information into near real-time estimates of drought response costs, by combining models on agricultural drought with data on vulnerable populations. African Risk View combines existing operational rainfall-based early warning models on agricultural drought in Africa with data on vulnerable populations to form a standardized approach for estimating food insecurity response costs across the continent. During IMPACT2C, ARV has been combined with the output of regional climate models (RCMs) contributing to the Africa-CORDEX initiative. Besides real-time and retrospective analysis ARV is now able to produce forecasts and scenarios of food security.

Preliminary results

Preliminary results from ARV (see figure) shows that food security might be affected in different ways in the Nile and in the Niger basins. In particular, according to considered scenarios, the Nile basin will enjoy more stable conditions for food security whereas in the Niger basin, large fluctuations in the number of drought affected people will be produced over time scales of decades. Therefore, while opportunities may exist for cooperative strategies in disaster risk reduction, challenges will be created in managing a potentially unequal distribution of vital resources.

The preliminary analysis presented here can be improved in many respects, e.g. analyse more climate scenarios, use more climate models. However, the kind of adaptation strategies to be envisioned will likely have to cope with with alternating dry-wet conditions over time scales of 10 years and more, rather than with constant drying or wetting tendencies.

Figure: 
The solid lines represent the average changes in % drought affected people among 10 RCP4.5 scenarios. The shaded areas represent the mid-tercile of the distribution of modelled changes

Red line: Nile basin
Blue line: Niger basin 

Read more about Wetlands International's work in the Inner Niger Delta.

IMPACT2C partners working in Africa:

ENEAWetlands InternationalPIKSMHIIWMI and ACMAD

Details RCP4.5 scenario 
  • Stabilized radiative forcing at 4.5 W m-2 (approx. 650 ppm CO2-equivalents).
  • Prizing of emissions of greenhouse gases enforced to reduce emissions. 
  • Bioenergy production with CO2 capture and geologic storage (net negative CO2 emissions) implemented.
  • Area of forests and dedicated bioenergy crops increased to meet global energy demand.
  • Electric power generation changes from the largest source of emissions to a system with net negative emissions.
  • Increased reliance on nuclear and renewable energy forms such as wind, solar and geothermal.
  • A global population that reaches ~9 billion in 2070 and then gradually declines.