South Africa is one of the regions that will be affected the most by climate change. Higher temperature and an increased prevalence of dry spells, and also more events with heavy rainfall will have tremendous effects on agriculture and the availability of clean water for example. The authorities in society need to act now to adapt to the new circumstances.
An area in east South Africa around the River Thukela has been studied in terms of climate change. Researchers from SMHI and their South African research colleagues have produced recommendations together with Authorities, NGOs, Water utilities, research organizations, commercial and small scale farmersin the area.
Based on calculations with climate models, assessments have been made of the most probable scenarios, and how serious the consequences would be of various changes.
"Climate change will hit South Africa hard, but different parts of the country will be affected in different ways. It is important to study vulnerability and adaptation measures from a local perspective," says Lotta Andersson, researcher SMHI.
"There is a great deal of uncertainty regarding the future climate. A key issue is therefore that local stakeholders identify what it is that makes various groups vulnerable and what they can do to adapt, both with regard to changes and also to climate fluctuations."
Access to water, protection from the rain and floods is one area to concentrate efforts around. There are many ideas as to how this can be done in a good way, for example state subsidies for houses that can cope with torrential rain; reservoirs and dams built with climate change in mind.
Other aspects may be information on how to re-use water for several purposes (e.g. use water from washing to water gardens, and how to prevent the spread of contagion from water stored in tanks.
Agricultural yields are likely to decrease in the future due to increased temperatures and the greater prevalence of harmful insects. For small-scale agriculture, there is also the concern for problems regarding increased erosion in connection with torrential rain.
This study also provides many recommendations such as increasing the use of natural methods to combat harmful insects, but also to stimulate cooperation between major commercial farmers, small-scale farmers and agricultural advisers.
Increased risk of more fires
An important natural resource issue is the increased risk of more fires in a changing climate. Both small-scale and commercial farmers in the study have indicated that it is both the most likely and the most devastating of effects that climate change will bring about in the region.
The deployment of financial resources has been proposed to help small-scale agricultural establishments with equipment to prevent and extinguish fires. Networks can be organised where small-scale and commercial farmers together fight fires.
The study points out many other areas that are vulnerable to climate change and how they can be tackled.
"Most of the proposed adaptation strategies concerning water and climate in Thukela are relevant to meet the climate´s natural variation and also to reduce the gap between the most privileged and disadvantaged groups. Individual citizens, and decision makers in society must all contribute to the adaptation process."
"Adapting to the climate is a continuous process as new information becomes available. A forum for the exchange of information between researchers and local operators should be an integrated part of the work," Lotta Andersson concludes.
The study is financed by The Swedish Development Agency and Research Links cooperation (NRF and the Swedish Research Council.)
Local Assessment of Vulnerability to Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources in the Upper Thukela