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Climate change threatens to affect hydropower in Africa

19 November 2009 – Africa’s freshwater resources are under serious threat from climate change and urgent adaptation measures will be required.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report entitled “Fresh Water Under Threat, Vulnerability Assessment of Freshwater Resources to Environmental Change, Africa” was released at the 2nd annual Africa Water Week in South Africa last week (November 9-13).

This report calls for urgent adaptation measures to combat scientific and technical deficiencies, poor governance and management structures, and pollution of water resources.

The Sanaga River basin in Cameroon was cited as an example where there are competing needs between water for hydropower generation and irrigation.  The basin has been subjected to severe drought and the situation is actually expected to worsen in the future.  The way forward has now been identified and calls for increased investment in scientific tools for forecasting and gauging water levels to minimize environmental impact.

This report needs to be recognized as a wake-up call for African governments to provide assistance to urban centers as they struggle to cope with the expected population increase and as some rural areas become uninhabitable due to climate change-related events such as flooding and droughts.

It is estimated that parts of Africa will suffer prolonged droughts by 2025, leading to a lack of water for domestic consumption and agriculture, not to mention hydropower, while other areas of the continent will experience flooding.  Climate change research will become ever more closely meshed with the development of energy resources in Africa and UNEP would like to see the continent plan ahead.