As Climate Discussions Heat Up, Africa’s Water Scarcity Becomes More Dire

Climate change has been a contentious topic since the first United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) – the supreme decision-making forum to jointly address climate change and its impacts – was convened nearly three decades ago. In light of this year’s’ COP27 conference, Sivan Ya’ari, Founder and CEO of Innovation: Africa, discusses how the acceleration of solar energy can ensure that Africa is not left high and dry as it waits for support from the agenda.

COP27 recently took place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, and the topic taking priority is Africa’s exposure to some of the most severe impacts of climate change. Despite omitting only 3% of greenhouse gases globally compared to China (23%), the US (19%), and Europe (13%), Africa is bearing the brunt of climate change that is widespread, rapid and intensifying. The hope is that pledges made during last year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow will be turned into action and the implementation of climate pledges, finance for adaption and access to energy become a reality.

Although “Act now” has been the resounding clarion call of the summit, it could still be a substantially long time before action is taken where it is needed most – on African ground. With over 600 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living without access to electricity and over 400 million people lacking access to clean water, the effects of climate change have never been more critical to address. Innovation: Africa is operating in rural African communities where thousands of people in each village are reliant on open and contaminated sources of water, much of which is drying out, as a result of severe drought that has plagued Africa and the situation is only growing more desperate. Communities are suffering from famine and starvation and when the rains do fall, devastating floods follow as the effects of climate change become more serve.

Without access to water, it is impossible to achieve any type of development – human or economic. In terms of economic transformation, agriculture is at the heart of Africa’s economy and has an extensive social footprint. It accounts for 14% of the total GDP in sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the majority of employment for the continent’s population. But, due to increasing water scarcity, Africa is simply not able to reach its full agricultural potential, leaving many without any way to support their families and communities.

Although we greatly commend the work and the agreements that were forged from last year’s COP26 conference in Glasgow, we have yet to see any impact on the most rural communities we serve. As the continent’s negotiators up demands for rich countries to commit to their pledges on  climate finance, those who have the means to accelerate solar energy must step up and continue to provide renewable energy solutions which come at a fraction of the cost and have immediate life-changing impact. We hope that this year’s conference truly highlights the urgency and severity of the situation and the variety of solutions, which exist in abundance, will be shared with those most in need.

The most critical and key action that needs to be taken, before anything else, is the implementation of solar energy to power schools, medical centres and to pump clean and safe water to those living without. There are an array of solar energy solutions available across Africa. Since 2010, the price of solar energy has decreased by 89%, making it the most affordable form of energy in history which can address: healthcare, education, food security, water and sanitation and many if not most of the United National SDGs.

Just a few solar panels are sufficient to power a solar pump, which enables clean water trapped just a few meters beneath the ground to be pumped up. At Innovation: Africa we have seen first-hand the life-changing impact that access to solar energy can have on communities – clean water brings improved health, food security, female empowerment and fosters economic independence thereby helping to break the cycle of poverty, reduce inequality and bring peace where the lack of water previously created tension.

It is ironic that the continent that receives more hours of sunshine than any other continent on earth, according the World Sunshine Map, still has such an incredibly low penetration of solar power in its energy sector. The region has unlimited potential for renewable energy, and yet is still severely lagging. We are fortunate to live in a time where solutions to the challenges exist – we have the sun and we have developed the technologies that can harness its power – global leaders and policy-makers have the responsibility to act now and bring about lasting change. Access to clean water is a fundamental human right that deserves less talk and more action to ensure it becomes a reality for all.

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