Climate Change Vulnerability and Impacts

A changing and variable climate presents major threats to the stability of socio-economic systems in the region due to the pressure imposed on the available natural resources, effects on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the frequency and severity of climate extreme events and their subsequent impact on human security. The IGAD countries lie within the tropics; hence exposed to tropical climate that is often characterised by a number of natural phenomena. The region is predominantly covered by arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) (60-70%) and is affected by prolonged droughts and unpredictable rainfall patterns of less than 400 mm annually (Babikir et al., 2015). For instance, Djibouti is characterized by a semi-desert tropical climate with extended periods of drought and recurring natural catastrophes.

More than 80% of the landmass in Kenya and Sudan is categorized as ASAL and Somalia is generally arid and semi-arid with two rainfall seasons. Moreover, the recurrent and protracted conflicts in the region are often linked to scarcity and competition over natural resources (Babikir et al., 2015).

Climate variability and change pose risks to human and natural systems. Risks to climate change come from climate-related hazards (droughts, floods).The vulnerability and exposure of societies and ecological systems in the IGAD region vary constantly because of the changes in the economic, social, demographic, cultural, institutional and governance indicators. For instance, 88 % and 55 % of Djibouti’s and Somalia’s population, respectively, live along the coastline hence increasing their vulnerability to the impacts of sea level rise (UNEP, 2000). The 2004 tsunami in Somalia killed more than 300 people, affected 8,000 households and destroyed a considerable amount of property. In Eritrea, climate change impacts are manifested through desertification, recurrent droughts, rising sea level, ground water depletion, heightened land degradation. The decreased amount of rainfall from 550 to 400mm in the highlands of Eritrea has led to recurrent droughts and the combined net effect of risks has resulted in food insecurity here and in the other IGAD member states. Sudan’s vulnerable ecosystems (upon which the majority of the population depends), already suffer from recurrent droughts, overuse of marginal lands, and a pre-dominance use of biomass for energy. Therefore, slight changes in the climate will have adverse effects on crop, grassland, water resource, animal production and forests because of the fragility of the ecosystem.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2015 was the warmest year on record reaching 1°C above the pre-industrial levels. This scenario is compounded by rising sea levels that increase the vulnerability of coastal areas in the region. Moreover, the 2015-2016 El Niño has led to an increase of drought-related famines and intense flooding in the IGAD region. It is estimated that approximately 22 million people in the region are at risk of food insecurity and associated malnutrition (WHO, 2015).

Vulnerability to droughts and floods in the Horn of Africa has aggravated poverty and declining household incomes. The IGAD countries are among the least developed in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita income, in levels of health and education, access to road and communication services (Table 1). Though there is significant variation among member states, most of them lag behind other regions in Africa. The high level of poverty and underdevelopment the IGAD region hampers countries’ ability to cope with climate variability and change.

Climate change has the potential to multiply existing threats to human security including food, health and economic insecurity in the Horn of Africa. In the 21st century, temperatures in the most arid regions in the Horn of Africa are likely to rise more quickly than in other land areas. These extreme events have severe negative impacts on key socio-economic sectors of all the countries in the sub-region. Part of the Horn of Africa’s vulnerability lies in the fact that the recent development gains have been in the climate-sensitive sectors.

The growing population is set to increase the demand for water and food, but prolonged droughts are expected to put additional pressure on the already scarce water resources and reduce crop yields. The agricultural sector, being the main source of livelihood for populations in IGAD countries, averagely contributes about 15 % to the national GDPs and employs approximately 75 % of the population in the region (Babikir et al., 2015). Approximately 65-70 % of the population in Eritrea and Sudan, 80 % in Ethiopia and Uganda, 65 % in Somalia and 95 % in South Sudan rely on the agricultural sector. Agriculture in Kenya contributes about 24 % of the GDP, with 65 % of the Kenyan population relying on agriculture for their livelihoods. Pastoralism is predominant in the region making up 57 % of the agricultural GDP (Babikir et al., 2015; Niang, et al., 2014). Despite the significance attached to pastoralism, most of pastoral areas are prone to droughts and other natural disasters.

Climate change is already causing harm upon rural and urban population, especially those living in extreme poverty. The face of poverty is multi-dimensional and involves hunger; illiteracy; unclean drinking water; lack of access to health services, sanitation and electricity; and social isolation. These affect the lives of poor people directly through impacts on livelihoods, such as losses in crop yields, food insecurity and destruction of property and homes. The impact of climate change on gender equity and wellbeing of women in a male-dominated culture is also immense. In urban areas, low-income groups, particularly women, face climate risks because of poor quality housing and exposure to flood and other natural as well as man-made disasters. They often occupy informal settlements on the fringes of urban areas vulnerable to floods, fire outbreaks, and poor sanitation facilities and weak health systems.

Consequently, health is particularly at risk in many poor urban, semi-urban, rural areas and pastoralist communities in the Horn of Africa’s in the face of variable and changing climate situations. Despite national variations, 40 to 65 per cent of the population in the IGAD region do not have access to safe drinking water, good sanitation and adequate health care services. Climate change will exacerbate vulnerability to vector (malaria and dengue fever) and water-borne (cholera) diseases. More floods in areas with poor sanitation and inadequate waste management will spread diseases. Rising temperatures will also spread hitherto unknown diseases to the highlands.

Some countries in the region have suffered and continue to suffer from inter- and intra-state conflicts and political instability. People living in places affected by violent conflict are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Large-scale violent conflict harms assets that facilitate adaptation (infrastructure, institutions, natural resources, social capital, and livelihood opportunities). It is the lack of such assets that aggravates the vulnerability of the IGAD region to climate change impacts.

Adaptation to climate change is a cross-cutting theme under the UNFCCC and is referred to in different articles. For example, Article 4.1e stressed the need for Africa to “cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change; develop and elaborate appropriate and integrated plans for coastal zone management, water resources and agriculture, and for the protection and rehabilitation of areas, affected by drought and desertification, as well as floods” (UNFCCC, 1992).

Table 1. Socio-economic Indicators in IGAD Member States

Indicator Djibouti Eritrea Ethiopia Kenya Somalia South Sudan Sudan Uganda
Total fertility rate (%) 3.4 4.8 4.5 4.7 6.6 8.9 5.4 6.2
Rural population (%) 22.8 77.8 81.8 67.7 61.3 82.9 65.2 81.9
Life expectancy at birth (years) 61.8 63.7 59.7 57.7 55.4 59.8 61.8 50.4

Child malnutrition(% underweight under age 5)

(2008 – 201




44.2 35.2 42.1 31.1 35 33.7
GDP per capita (US$) 3276 1130 1428 2762 600 2332 3809 1613
Percentage population living below the international poverty line US$1.25 (in purchasing power parity terms) a day. 18.8



36.8 43.4 - - 19.8 37.8
Human Development Index (HDI) 0.470
- 0.442




KEY: 1 Figure from Eritrea’s Response to IRCCS; 2Figure from UNDP (2015); 3The human development index rank classifies countries according to their level (i.e. high, medium or low) of development. The IGAD countries fall in the category of low level of development.

Source: Compiled from Babikir, et al., (2015); Somalia NAPA (2013); NSO [Eritrea] and FAFO AIS (2013); and UNDP (2015a) and UNDP (2015b)


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