Climate change hits hard in Zambia: an African success story

Lake Kariba, Zambia — Even as drought and the effects of climate change grew visible across this land, the Kariba Dam was always a steady, and seemingly limitless, source of something rare in Africa: electricity so cheap and plentiful that Zambia could export some to its neighbors. The power generated from the Kariba – one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams, in one of the world’s largest artificial lakes – contributed to Zambia’s political stability and helped turn its economy into one of the fastest growing on the continent. But today, as a severe drought magnified by climate change has cut water levels to record lows, the Kariba is generating so little juice that blackouts have crippled the nation’s already hurting businesses.

2016.05.30 ZambiaAfter a decade of being heralded as a vanguard of African growth, Zambia, in a quick, mortifying letdown, is now struggling to pay its own civil servants and has reached out to the International Monetary Fund for help.

»The Kariba Dam was a big eye-opener, sort of a confirmation that, yes, there could be this problem of climate change«, said David Kaluba, national coordinator of the government’s Interim Climate Change Secretariat.

On a continent especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, Zambia’s rapid fall shows how the phenomenon threatens economic development across Africa, and how easily it can contribute to wiping out the fragile gains made in recent years.

While the global drop in commodities prices has devastated Africa, drought and other weather patterns related to climate change over decades have also undermined some of the biggest economies across the continent, from Nigeria in the West to Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa to South Africa at its bottom tip.

Over the next decades, Africa is expected to warm up faster than the global average, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Despite an agreement reached in Paris in December, which committed nearly every country in the world to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, it is far from clear how much money African nations will have to mitigate climate change and adapt to it.


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