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How can we stop the slow-burning systemic fuse of loss and damage due to land degradation and drought in Africa?

Droughts are extreme events that have major impacts on communities, ecosystems and economies due to slow onset and complex processes. Land and ecosystem degradation increase the risks of loss and damage during droughts, whereas well-adapted practices and policies can enable society to (re)build resilience.

This review highlights actions needed to connect and fill gaps in the present systems for ecological and hydrological monitoring, governance, and alignment of economic incentives at regional, national and local scales. Stopping the slow-burning fuse of drought damage requires improved tracking and reversal of the observable slow-onset nature of hydrological and socio-economic drought. International scientific and technical cooperation to better map and quantify changing loss and damage risks could provide evidence-based action triggers.

The objective of this paper is to provide up to date knowledge and insights to the ongoing delivery of the work programme of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts under the UNFCCC . It presents an analytical review [drawing on recent assessments   of the latest literature on land and ecosystem degradation in Africa and how this contributes to increasing immediate drought risks (alongside ongoing climatic changes). It highlights opportunities for enhanced national and international scientific and technical cooperation to evidence and further enable better-adapted land management practices and policies preventing loss and damage.

Droughts are extreme events that have major impacts on communities, ecosystems and economies  Vulnerability to drought can be exacerbated by land degradation, which is a slow onset phenomenon progressively reducing hydrological and ecological functions and productivity .

Whereas systemic degradation increases the risks of loss and damage during droughts, well-adapted sustainable land management practices and policies can enable society to (re)build resilience . Over the past decade, concerted international attention has been devoted to improving preparedness and response planning to reduce drought impacts on vulnerable populations , and adapting to the increasing frequency, duration and severity of droughts due to climate change. But until recently, far less attention has been paid to understanding, maintaining and boosting systemic resilience to drought in Africa.This can be achieved through positive and proactive human interactions with the terrestrial life support system .

Remaining needs for action to connect and fill gaps in the present systems

This review has highlighted particular opportunities for restorative action to prevent land and ecosystem degradation from multiplying drought effects. It explores the possible alignment of economic incentives for ecosystem restoration with ecological and hydrological monitoring and assessment and multi-scale governance and financing. Through the Adaptation Fund, Green Climate Fund and others, billions of dollars have been committed to international climate finance, expanding meteorological forecasting and its integration with remote earth observation capabilities to observe drought risks. Emerging national environmental economic accounting may now also begin to help further to translate changes in ecological and hydrological conditions into economic terms for decision-makers.

Still there is no effective support in place connecting vulnerable communities’ observations of the essential basic functions and health of ecological and hydrological life support systems to national and global systems for action. This missing link is important because although these conversions are intuitively understood at the level of affected households and communities, statistics and evidence are still needed to improve national and global decision-making and trigger effective action on the ground.

Enhanced international scientific and technical cooperation focusing on the levels of essential hydrological reserves in soil, water bodies and storage systems should provide the missing evidence to verify the effects of investments and guide human institutions and decision-making to avoid disasters occurring due to droughts.

WIM offers vulnerable populations the prospect of recourse against governments that fail to avert, minimize and address losses and damages resulting from the adverse effects of climate change on extreme weather, such as droughts and other associated slow onset phenomena.

However, vulnerability to drought is also exacerbated by human inactions and actions that directly degrade the functions of ecosystems and their services WIM is not designed to focus on addressing these — but through its consideration of slow onset events it can help to put adequate systems in place to determine the losses due to climate change and other drivers. Available human capacities for evidence-based action could then stop the slow-burning fuse of hydrological and ecological drought damage and disasters from affecting households and economies.

Published in: Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 2021, 50:289–302

This review comes from a themed issue on Slow onset events related to climate change

Edited by Susana Adamo, Riyanti Djalante, PG Dhar Chakrabarti, Fabrice G Renaud, Amsalu Woldie Yalew, Doreen Stabinsky, Zinta Zommers and Koko Warner

For a complete overview see the Issue and the Editorial.

The article is part of UNCCD library collection, you can access it in full text here

drought article