Extreme weather conditions predicted because of climate change in Namibia are likely to have a tremendous effect on the 70 percent of the country's people who live in rural areas and depend heavily on agriculture.
According to experts in climate change, Namibia has no option but to adapt to the changing climate as radical changes in weather, such as extreme dry spells and exceptionally heavy rainfall, are forecast for the southern African country.
The heavy rainfall has already started: this year's flood levels in the Cuvelai Basin in north-central Namibia were eight centimetres higher than the 2009 flood season. This is a new record for the area where almost half of Namibia's 2.1 million people live.
At least 21 school children were reported to have drowned since the beginning of the floods in early February. Extensive damage was also sustained on Namibia's roads, buildings and other infrastructure, and thousands of people were displaced.
In a country where some of the biggest contributors to the national economy – namely agriculture, fisheries and eco-tourism – are dependent on natural resources, the ever-increasing change will require substantial adaptation.
If adaptation is not possible, poverty, a lack of income and employment opportunities will increase the vulnerability of households, says Ephraim Nekongo, the chairperson of the Oshana Regional Youth Forum. Namibia already has unemployment figures of about 50 percent.
"The environmental consequences of climate change, both those already observed and those that are anticipated, such as (rising) sea levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and drought, more intense hurricanes and storms, heat waves and degraded air quality, will both affect human health directly and indirectly," said Nekongo, speaking at the Namibia Climate Change Adaptation Youth Conference (NYCCC) on Jul. 29 to 30.
The country's economy is directly reliant on the environment for up to 30 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP). This is according to experts and technical advisors of the Africa Adaptation Project (AAP), a United Nations Development Programme initiative supported by the Japanese government that assists 20 African countries in implementing adaptation actions and plans to deal with climate change.
Initial research has indicated that the impact climate change will have on natural resources could reduce Namibia's GDP by up to six percent, about 30 million dollars, over the next 20 years.
As Namibia is a vulnerable country that contributes fairly little to greenhouse gasses (GHG), its first priority in climate change responsibility must be adaptation, says Namibia's Minister of Environment and Tourism Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwa.
According to the technical advisor of AAP Namibia, Johnson Ndokosho, Africa is responsible for a mere three percent of GHGs in the atmosphere. North America and Western Europe combined are responsible for 75 percent and their total population is roughly the same as that of the whole of Africa.
"The government of Namibia is committed to developing its evidence base to take long-term actions for climate change adaptation and mitigation and has commissioned climate projection studies to learn more about climate change effects," says Nandi-Ndaitwa. She says that young Namibians are already taking the lead to build the country's economy and focus, not only on the challenges, but also on the opportunities presented by climate change.
One of the projects that does this is the Urban Indigenous Poultry Project, funded by AAP.Nelson Haulamba, a young farmer who is part of the project, says that the aim is to adapt to climate change, generate an income and offer a platform for those interested in agriculture. People involved with the project farm the Boschveld Chicken, a cross of three indigenous chicken breeds in Africa: the Venda, Matabele and Ovambo.
"It is the only synthetic indigenous chicken breed in Africa. It is a no-fuss breed that can survive harsh conditions," he says.
The Boschveld Chicken can allegedly survive on "what nature can provide". It therefore needs very little maintenance. They can also, according to Haulamba, withstand the varying climatic conditions of Africa and produce a good amount of eggs in free-range conditions.
Due to low rainfall, generally poor soil quality and high rates of evaporation, Namibia is better situated for livestock than crop production, says Haulamba.
"In order for Namibia to achieve food security in terms of poultry, we should use high quality breeds that can adapt to the different climatic conditions of Namibia."
The country is expected to face an absolute water scarcity, which is when the annual water supply drops below 500 cubic metres per person, in nine years.
"Decreased rainfall and increased evaporation can lead to a decrease in surface water and the recharging of groundwater. Already as it is, Namibia is projected to face absolute water scarcity by 2020. This is a situation where Namibians will need more water than the country can supply," says Ndokosho.
But the sea will flood some parts of the country within the next 100 years. According to Ndokosho, sea levels along the Namibian coastline may rise 30 to 100 cm within the next 100 years. This increase is projected to flood significant parts of Walvis Bay and other coastal towns.
Experts say the ability of African countries to build climate resilience into their national development plans will be a major factor in their efforts to achieve and sustain the Millennium Development Goals to reduce hunger and poverty, reduce the spread of contagious diseases, achieve environmental sustainability and increase levels of education.
Potential measures needed in order to adapt to climate change in Namibia include the protection of wetlands and the vegetation that grows at the mouth of streams and rivers.
"Wetlands are like sponges," says Ndokosho. "They absorb water, act as buffers against storms and are sources of fresh water."
He says that beaches and sandpits need to be replenished. According to him beach replenishment is important because it increases the size of the beach and reduces flooding on coastal developments.
Other risks, he says, can be overcome by initiatives to generate income and diversify livelihoods while creating learning platforms in both agriculture and climate change adaptation.
Investments in renewable energy sources will have to be made in order to adapt to a possible energy crisis. It is important to become less dependent on trees, Ndokosho adds.