November 21, 2011 -- In a week’s time, the world’s biggest annual summit on climate change  begins in the South African city of Durban. As officials from around the world gather there, the global gaze is turning to Africa and how the continent is coming to terms with a changing climate.
What is clear already is that changing weather and rainfall patterns are having a major impact. The devastating drought that hit the Horn of Africa earlier this year affected 11 countries and 12 million people. In stark contrast, the Niger River rose to its highest levels in 80 years last year, making 1 million people homeless in the West of Africa. Meanwhile, Lake Chad – source of water for 30 million people in Chad, Niger and Nigeria – is drying up as rainfall patterns change across the continent leading to migration and conflict.
According to Obiageli Ezekwesili, World Bank Vice President for the Africa Region, climate change is adding to an already tough set of development challenges for the continent. Around 560 million Africans do not have access to modern energy, for example. And weak infrastructure – water, roads, electricity and communication technologies– cuts economic growth by 2 percentage points per year.
With the cost of adapting to climate change added to the mix, Sub-Saharan Africa alone will need to find another $14-17 billion a year between now and 2050, according to a recent World Bank study .
Reasons for optimism
But Ezekwesili remains optimistic for Africa’s future. If Africa’s economies continue to grow at the present rate, the continent’s GDP could double in about 12 years.
“This means Africa has a unique opportunity as it goes about building its roads, cities and ports for the future,” she says.“Our growing cities can be low-carbon and our agriculture can become climate-smart and thereby, more productive.”
The World Bank Group has about $7 billion in planned investments to help Africa deal with climate change. These efforts range from helping countries come to terms with climate risks and vulnerabilities to designing new climate-friendly policies to making the shift to renewable forms of energy.
``Our goal in Africa is to build a longer-term vision for growth. We have several programs that are supporting countries to design policies that show a different pathway to growth,’’ says Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Program Manager, Africa Region.
The World Bank-supported Pilot Program for Climate Resilience  (PPCR) is one such program working in Niger and Zambia. ``The process of designing the program has been important. In Niger, they were building a development program around food security. We helped push the envelope and now the plan incorporates climate change considerations,’’ explains Pswarayi-Riddihough.
PPCR is part of the Climate Investment Funds  (CIFs), a dedicated resource for climate action with the World Bank as one of the partners. Similar plans are being developed for 11 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
|Jamal Saghir, Director of the Sustainable Development Department in the Africa Region for the World Bank, discusses climate change and infrastructure in Africa.|
Africa showing the way
As it grows, Africa needs climate-resilient infrastructure that can withstand 1-in-50 year flooding rather than the 1-in-100 year type. Progress is being made—in Ethiopia, more stringent road building norms are being adopted that will avoid the larger cost of future repair. In Madagascar, preparing and adopting emergency preparedness plans are helping build resilience to more frequent cyclones.
In the Niger River basin, home to over a 100 million people in nine countries, riparian countries have come together to chart a development plan for water storage, irrigation, hydropower, and fisheries. The group of countries have asked the World Bank to help the Niger Basin Authority assess risks from climate change to the broader plan and reflect these in future climate-resilient investments.
Some of the tools that are being used to better manage water resources include a new breed of sensors, mobile phones, satellite remote sensing systems, and new open data platforms. Mobile phones, for example, can be used to send text messages to farmers about their quotas of irrigation water for the day. The World Bank has also been reaching out to a new generation of creative thinkers in Africa through events like the “Hackathon ” organized in Zambia last month to help find technological solutions to climate risks and water scarcity.
Africa is also showing that it is possible to make the shift to renewables while providing much-needed access to energy. New hydro projects are under consideration in Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Cameroon. Kenya  is expanding geothermal power production. And through the Lighting Africa  initiative, the aim is to bring light to 250 million Sub-Saharan Africans by 2030 through high-tech energy-saving lamps.
Agriculture – which employs up to 70% of people in some countries – is a big priority for Africa. Now, 12 West African and Sahelian countries are implementing an action plan for `climate smart agriculture’  which increases productivity while sequestering carbon.
The Humbo Community-Based Natural Regeneration Project  is regenerating almost 3,000 hectares of native natural forest and the community is earning revenues from the sale of carbon credits to the BioCarbon Fund . In Kenya, farmers will soon be getting carbon credits for introducing better farming practices.
As Ezekwesili says: “Climate change is not purely about threats, it’s actually the opportunities that it presents to Africa to completely transform its development path.”