SADC … for what media is really worth its name

WE journalists are a privileged, yet somehow remain an unhappy lot; we claim to be witnesses to the making of history, then lose track when politics takes over and other more juicy stories follow.

As a junior reporter (don’t ask me when … lest someone starts calculating my age) I happen to have been assigned to cover the visit of one Michel (du) King, a global emissary whose mission was to gauge the viability of some economic entity whose ‘barometric’ results would tell the world whether working together across southern Africa would be feasible.

I’ve since lost track of that good ambassador, but we can all report that SADC (the Southern African Development Community), now a grouping of sixteen, high diversified nation states, is a reality.

We’re talking of a multi-billion dollar trading bloc which, if not often held back by internal squabbles, could threaten the world order itself. But, alas, we’re still divided, and so remain the poorer for it.

Another thing: All the social and economic promises sound good, as we hear one politician after another making nice calculations of all the wealth that awaits possible investment.

Yet we do not hear anyone making any good sums about the seed-corn, or that basket from where the wealth comes from; our natural resource base, which we all seem to take for granted.

In what now seems to look like the misty 1990s, there was much uncertainty about both the issue and the consequences of climate change. Following worldwide concern about greenhouse warming then, several general circulation models were constructed to predict the nature of climatic changes.

The implications of these models remained the subject of much debate and their forecasts were, at best, used only as a guide.

The significance for the region of four of these models, based on a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide, were exhaustively reviewed by experts during the 1980s and early 1990s, all pointing to conclusions that there was ‘ some agreement’ that, with increasing atmospheric emissions of greenhouse gases, summer rainfall would decrease over subtropical regions of southern Africa and increase over tropical regions of southern Africa.

In addition, lower rainfall over the winter rainfall region of the southern Cape was also seen as probable.

Over the long term, it was predicted that much of southern Africa would become more arid than hence, which would exacerbate problems already within the arid and semi-arid lands that constitute much of the region.

A subsequent study of climate scenarios for the SADC region undertaken in 1992 by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the University of East Anglia and sponsored by Sida, still highlighted that information for the region concerning both the potential impact of global warming and the means by which that impact might be reduced was often uncertain and, in many cases, simply not available.

Small wonder we all seemed ill-prepared when increased flooding ‘overtook’ well-intentioned development plans for much of the Mozambican coastline.

One small consolation, however, is that even the ‘big boys’ such as the US of A sailed in the same rocky boat when recent floods its East Coast was hit hard.

Within the SADC region, the report outlined a range of possibilities for the climate future, using estimates for three points (Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Harare (Zimbabwe) and Gaborone (Botswana) ).

The scenarios do not take account of local heating effects caused by urban expansion and represent rural areas beyond urban influence. They all agree on a rise in temperature in the region by the year 2030, but figures vary between 0.8 and 1.7 degrees Centigrade, depending on location and scenario. By comparison, there was much disagreement between the climate models for regional precipitation.

Some scenarios showed annual precipitation falling between 6 and 13 per cent by 2030; others suggested an increase between 7 and 14 per cent by the same year.

A more up-to-date study in 1996 provided yet more climate projections to 2050. The same direction of trends was then assumed to 2010, but with changes less developed and probably linear over this period.

This report reminded us that southern Africa had seen temperatures increase by 0.5 Centigrade since the 19th Century (a pattern similar to global changes) with the warmest years this century occurring since 1980 and the warmest (and driest) decade being 1985-94.

If the predicted changes do occur, there would be inevitable changes in ecosystems and species are likely to become extinct, at least locally. There were also worries that many of the threatened plant species within South Africa would become extinct.

It was also predicted that sea levels would rise and that drier conditions would, correspondingly, induce regional shifts in food production (as maize becomes unsuitable) and the availability of water.

While those studies suggested that climate change would impact adversely on the region, some positive spin-offs from such change have also been suggested:

“It is assumed that climate change would promote an increase in sardine and anchovy distribution and quantities, particularly along the west coast of Namibia, guaranteeing large stocks of harvest from the sea ....,” the report said, in part.

I’ve dwelt at length on this report because it was the first product of a shared undertaking between scientists, policy-makers and the media; the scientists did what they knew best, then the journalists took over … and brought all those ‘complicated’ figures and facts down in a language you could easily digest at the coffee table. We’ve come a long way … indeed.

Author: James Mpinga

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