From Taking It Global: The Effects of Global Warming on Human lives in West Africa
Global Warming has sparked lots of arguments in environmental, industrial, political and academic circles, governmental and non-governmental alike. What is Global Warming? Global Warming is simply the increase of the atmosphere’s temperature and its effect on the environment, including all ecosystems. The effects of global warming are brought about due to industrialization and other human practices such as farming and construction.
Human activities impact the climate in different ways. Obvious aspects of the impact of Global Warming will be changes in both average and extreme temperatures. Global Warming will obviously enhance coastal erosion, lengthen the planting/ growing seasons and possibly change the range of some infectious diseases.
In West Africa, due to natural climatic conditions, Global Warming will result in more hot days and fewer wet days. However, current trends in climatic changes show a slight change. There have been more hot days and heavy storms. Areas at high latitudes that are already experiencing much rainfall will have more storms while tropical regions and dry places will likely receive scanty rains. The increase in rainfalls will translate into heavier storms, but not into an increase in the number of rainy days. This will lengthen the period of drought. Global Warming in West Africa will thus prolong drought/ dry seasons. In Ghana this was seen during the energy crisis which followed the lack of rains in the Upper White Volta.
From the period of industrialization till now, there have been more gas emissions into the atmosphere than in any other era in global history. Due to industrialization climatic change cannot be avoided. As long as there is a continuous influx of production industries and an unquenchable quest for a massive infrastructural and industrial boom in West Africa, the globe will experience inevitable climate change. This will obviously have an impact on human lives, the ozone layer and the ecosystems.
Industrial emissions like methane will deplete the ozone layer, which is a covering, and temperatures will go up. Global Warming is very likely to invent heavy and more destructive storms, and to increase drought, burning and coastal damage from high sea levels. However, there are going to be some exceptions. Tropical areas are likely to receive less rain as the earth becomes warmer.
Global climate change and its effects are seen all over the world and Africa is no exception. However, this article is limited to the West African sub-region (and especially focused on Ghana). In Ghana it is evident that climatic conditions have changed for the past eight years or so. Rainfall patterns have changed as the wet or rainy season has shifted and the intensity or depth of rain has increased. There are more storms and the dry season has become very intense. What has caused these climatic changes in a lowly-industrialized continent like Africa. The answer to this question lies with us. Lots of bush burning, the emission of fumes from cars and trucks and the destruction of forests have had their impact.
The most affected in these climatic changes will be farmers and fisherfolk. The changes in rainfall and dry season patterns will have a great effect on growing plants and animals. Storms and flooding will be inevitable. The weather is not the only thing global warming will impact. Rising levels of the sea will destroy seacoasts and cause increased coastal flooding. Thus, the sea will begin to “eat our land”. The problem is serious because in Ghana it is estimated that about 70% of the population are farmers and fisherfolk. Thus climate change will mean less production of food, including fish and meat. Feeding oneself and one’s family will be difficult.
This writer and others believe strongly that the current world food crisis has its genesis in global climate change. Countries like Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, which are well noted for meat production, will suffer because the rearing of animals like cattle will lessen as water bodies dry up and vegetation dies. These animals in turn will have little to feed on and drink. Not only will meat decrease but fresh milk will also be scarce. The decrease in the production of staples will mean an increase in the price of the little that is available. No wonder we are faced with global food crises.
When the production of food crops and export produce decreases, it is obvious that the poverty levels of the people in West Africa will rise. This is the time for various West African governments and, more importantly, for ECOWAS to make strict environmental policies and enforce already existing ones. Thus, they can save poor farmers and fisherfolk from unbeatable poverty, and the whole sub-region from diseases such as cancer, malaria, heat strokes and other infections caused by heat.
The inability of these high-powered bodies to come out and strictly supervise and implement environmental laws means that residents of poorer countries, who do not have the resources to fend off changes in the climate, will be the hardest hit. As temperatures in tropical areas rise, the rate at which some diseases like malaria attack people will change. Intensive rains will lead to more severe flooding and the rising of sea levels. The dry season will be hotter and bush fires will increase. The intensity of droughts could lead to an increase in malnutrition as animals and plants will die out of hunger and thirst.
Plants will die out because of excessive water from flooding. Also, fresh water will become scarce during the dry season as the drought period will be lengthened. In Ghana where there is a shortage of good drainage systems, hot days will be more of a blessing than a problem: flooding will have a tendency to render most people in these unplanned areas homeless as they will be prone to losing most of their properties. Longer growing seasons could also increase food production in some temperate areas.
Global Warming has put increased pressure on the ecosystems of West Africa. The plants and animals that co-existed in particular climates are beginning to migrate to find new ecosystems that can support them. Warmer temperatures have already shifted the growing season in Ghana. Both the dry and wet seasons come earlier than expected. As such, migrating animals begin their journeys earlier in search of food. Since the growing season has lengthened, it is obvious that plants will need more water to keep growing or they will die out. As the growing season progresses, there are increases in daily temperatures. These temperatures are sometimes beyond the tolerance of plants and animals. Some animals must migrate to survive this harsh climate change.
Talking to some fisherfolk at the Jamestown beach, I asked why some fish species that had been sold in the market in years past were no more. Their answer was no different from what I have been discussing in this article. They confirmed that most of the species had migrated to other countries’ waters and to the deep sea because the water temperature around the Ghanaian coastline could not support their existence.
I also spoke with some hunters who confirmed that some animal species they had once hunted as game had migrated to other parts of the country or died out due to the temperature changes and bush fires. Thus species that cannot migrate or adapt to climate change face extinction. According to climate experts, an estimated 25- 35% of plant and animal species risk extinction if atmospheric temperatures keep rising in the next few years.
Another critical issue that needs to be discussed is what the global warming experts call the “greenhouse effect”. The “greenhouse effect” has received critical scrutiny because of its association with global warming, but it is important to the sustenance of life on earth. Thanks to the “greenhouse effect”, the deflection of sunlight from the earth back into space is about 30%.
The rest of the sunlight, which reaches the surface of the earth, is reflected upwards as energy called infrared radiation. This infrared radiation is carried by air currents which are absorbed by “greenhouse gases” such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone and methane. Even though the gases amount to only 1% of the planet’s atmosphere, they regularize the climate as they trap heat and hold it in something like a “warm air” blanket that surrounds the planet.
Without the “greenhouse effect” it is believed that the earth’s temperature will increase by 30 degrees. Thus, the West African ecosystem will be in jeopardy. In West Africa, human activities have changed and catalyzed the God-made “greenhouse effect” by creating more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than we need. The result is what we are all experiencing.
The climate in West Africa has become very warm. Most vehicles in Ghana emit fumes into the atmosphere, raising the level of carbon dioxide. Research shows that about 75% of people in West Africa are farmers who use all kinds of methods in farming. Some of these farming and land usage practices increase the levels of nitrous oxide and other chemicals in the ecosystem. In addition, the activities of the small number of factories contribute to the enhancement of global warming in the sub-region.
Mention can also be made of deforestation. This occurs at high rates in West Africa. Our forests and trees protect us from the rays of the sun and use carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. But they are now being logged for timber or cut down to create space for farming. There is also the issue of population growth and its contribution to the increase in the use of fuel for heat, transportation and manufacturing. This, in turn, causes an increase in greenhouse gases. To sum it all up, the increment of greenhouse gases means more infrared radiation will be trapped and held in the atmosphere. This will cause the temperatures of the earth’s surface and the atmosphere to increase.
It is clear that global warming will continue to impact life on earth in several ways. How far it will go depends on you and I. Climatic change experts have shown that the activities of humans catalyze the emission of greenhouse gases and this increases global temperatures. It is not surprising that what scientists have predicted is coming to pass. God has given as all the rules but we have chosen to do what pleases us. In the beginning, as noted in the Bible (Genesis 1: 28), He said “man should have dominion”, but our dominion has turned us into destroyers of that over which we were supposed to be “watchmen”.
As a result of our disobedience, ecosystems in West Africa and elsewhere have been affected and surprising changes are taking place. Plants and animals are migrating or dying out. Tropical rain is taking on different dimensions and there are widespread and frequent droughts. It is evident that the effects of global warming on West Africa will be diabolical if lasting and timely interventions are not undertaken by ECOWAS and environment protection bodies in various West African countries.
The current global food crises will be very harsh on West Africans, droughts will increase and access to fresh water will be reduced. Famine and diseases will become widespread in West African states. Considering that some of the world’s poorest countries are found in West Africa, the repercussions of global warming on West African people will be very great.
The onus lies, not only on ECOWAS and nations in West Africa, but also on individuals like you and me, and on communities and various NGOs, CBOs and NPOs to educate people. This we can do by creating awareness and asking people to reduce their dependency on fossil fuels and increase their use of renewable energy. We could also ask them to live a daily lifestyle that will help in the sustenance of their environments.
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