More than once did I witnessed how the dark clouds roll over cities and forests. Wondering where they came from so quick and why they come now. In the middle of the dry season.
The rain is pouring down heavy and all life comes to a hold. The drops beat down on soil, plants, humans and houses sometimes so hard and the rain is so dense that you automatically start looking for leaks in windows or cars as well as you start to secure all the electronic things you own.
When the rain is gone and you walk the streets again you see the effect that it has on the environment.
Gravel on the streets and potholes filled with water tell their own story of how the rain eats itself in any man-made structure no matter how durable it is meant to be. Houses, cars, ships, bridges and streets will all break down in the long run.
But these are things that can be rebuild in a short period of time and they are nothing that you actually have to worry about that much. What worries me the most are specific changes in patterns of rainfall.
How the gravels of the streets are washed away by the rain, so are the boundaries between the dry and the rainy season washed away by the effects of a changing climate.
Unpredictability of rainfall patterns especially in critical stages of the planting season makes it difficult for farmers to predict when the best time is to plant their seeds. Knowing, that if they miss the right time window during the planting season their yield will be significant smaller than their capital input at the beginning of the season. On the other hand if they plant to early, the unexpected heavy rainfalls will destroy the seedlings and therefore the whole yield because there is no money left to buy new seeds.
Biomass provides about 80% of the primary domestic energy supply in Sub Sahara Africa, while rain-fed agriculture contributes some 30% of GDP and employs about 70% of the population, and is the main safety net of the rural communities.
In addition with deforestation the amount of soil being washed away by the rain is increasing, leading to flooding and the danger of water-borne disease during the times of heavy rainfalls. The lack of sanitation and trash collection combined with the heavy rainfalls leads to the contamination of water supplies and a decline in water quality affecting mostly kids in rural areas.
A second group of communities heavily affected by these changes are coastal villages who rely on small scale fishing and farming. besides the heavy rains and the change in rainfall patterns, their greatest threat at the moment is the rising sea level that endangers their lifestyle. In the Volta Region the sea is washing away some beaches around the delta area because of a continues lack of sediment flows from the upper Volta regions. The Akosombo dam hinders the flow of sediments from the north that would repeatedly renew the beaches and provide fresh sand so that the beaches would be a steady coming and going of sediments. The combination of the lack of sediments and the rising sea levels have lead to dramatic examples such as Totope where a whole village is forced to stock up the floors of their houses with trash and sand to escape from rising groundwater. Partly fled to the lagoon behind their village, the villagers will be sooner or later forced to leave their ancestors home and settle somewhere more dry and with a future outlook that looks brighter than living on a dump site between rats, trash and mosquitoes with dwindling catch from fishing and decline of farm yields because of an advancing salinisation of their groundwater.
According to the UNESCO Intergovernmental Oceanografic Commission coastal decline on average in West Africa is between 1 and 2 meters per year. Major coastal roads and cities along the coast such as Lagos or Accra are partly endangered by the approaching coastline. In addition most of the fancy tourist places are these lush beach resorts and lodges where you basically sleep with your house at the beach.
A decline in tourism because of dwindling beaches would be a threat to a lot of communities where tourism is basically the only chance to get away from fishing or small scale agriculture.
All of this is no problem for policy makers and large building projects from gas and salt production sites to apartment towers right at the beach in Accra or luxurious business cities such as the Eko Atlantic in Lagos will be build with a huge long time risk for people and state as the last resort of help in case of danger.
The responsibility of people for most of this effects makes it even harder to think about the same people making responsible policies towards climate change.
On the other hand it gives hope to know that human behavior can influence the environment to change. Because it works both ways. For the better and for the worse.