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Impact, vulnerability and adaptation in Africa: the competition for water

Multiple Authors

Water is a key vital resource. Regions with steep climatic transition are exposed to the risk of increasing competition for water resources. Th European Commission project IMPACT2C seeks to anticipate these changes using modern impact modelling capacities. We focus on vulnerability assessment in African regions due to a global averaged surface temperature change of 2°C. Photo: Copyright Frank Hattermann, PIK.

River economies

The Nile and the Niger rivers flow through areas of steep climatic transition: both sources are located in areas of tropical climate (e.g. more than 2000mm/yr precipitation in Guinea and Ethiopian Highlands), while they travel for long distances across the desert (less than 50 mm/yr precipitation in northern parts of Mali and Sudan).

For all riparian states of the Nile the agricultural sector is a major contributor to the GDP and food security whereas in the Inner Niger Delta the livelihoods (rice growing, fishing, cattle raising) of more than 1.5 million people rely directly on the flood dynamics in the Upper Niger delta. In the irrigated area of the Office du Niger in Mali, about 590,000 tons of rice and 303,000 tons of sugar cane are produced per year. In the Nile basin, energy production also depends mainly on the river flow although only 26% of the potential 20GW are currently produced by hydropower.

Demographic pressure

The Niger and the Nile flow through countries with very high annual population growth rate, sometimes higher than 3%. Population will approximately double by 2050, reaching more than 225 million in the Niger basin and over 400 million in the Nile basin. This corresponds approximately to the years when a global temperature rise of 2°C above pre- industrial level is expected.

Cause attribution to assisted WFP beneficiaries, 2002 to 2009 (Source: WFP,


The vulnerability of this area of Africa is well described in an analysis conducted by the World Food Programme on the basis of humanitarian interventions conducted during the last decade (see Figure). More than 30% of actions are related to the effects of droughts and a similar fraction can be attributed to conflicts. Flooding represents a third important component of the vulnerability profile.

The combination of critical dependence on water available from river flows and of demographic pressure, makes adaptation to climate change in these two river basins an extraordinary challenge. On one hand, optimal strategies for the use of available water for food production is a priority. However, population growth increases the demand for new services such as energy production in urban areas. For example, about 20 large dams for hydropower are currently either in construction or at the project stage in the Niger basin.

Assessing adaptation options

The EC FP7 project IMPACT2C is conducting a comparative analysis of existing adaptation plans with the aim of identifying criticalities in the light of the most recent achievements in terms of projecting future climate. In particular IMPACT2C will use climate scenarios to evaluate potential changes in the pattern of vulnerable areas, by modelling the impact of climate change on food security and how water managements strategies may affect future food and energy production with partners in the region.

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