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Southern Africa Climate Tipping Points

todayJuly 2, 2024 8

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By Vitalio Angula, via Evergreen News


Global Warming and Climate Change could lead to the total collapse of Namibia’s Cattle Industry if global temperatures exceed 3 Degrees Celsius in the second half of the 21st Century experts at a Southern African Climate Change and Adaptive Land Management (SASSCAL) meeting held in the capital Windhoek recently revealed.

The TIPPECC Co-Design and Research Dissemination Meeting with SASSCAL included experts from five SASSCAL countries namely Angola, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia who discussed “Tipping Points” that would occur if countries do not reign in on their CO2 emissions, which experts say are the single largest contributor to climate change.

TIPPECC stands for Tipping Points Explained by Climate Change and is a forecast of imminent disasters on the horizon for Southern African nations if global temperatures continue to rise.

“Climate Change is bringing extreme events of a nature we have never seen before and if they are unexpected then they are disastrous”, climate expert from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Francois Engelbrecht, said about the research findings conducted by the Global Change Institute.

“In April 2022, five hundred and forty-four people died in the biggest flood disaster in the history of South Africa, “the Durban Floods”. South Africa was completely unprepared and the government did not evacuate a single person”, Engelbrecht said.

“In South Africa, the big tipping point risk is the Eastern Northern Dams running out of water and not being able to supply more than 15 million people in Gauteng that are dependent on that water and this includes Johannesburg”, he further said.

“We had a huge scare back in 2016 with the last big drought in the region which was different to the current drought which followed three good rainy seasons; in 2016, after six consecutive years of drought the level of the Vaal Dam reached 25 percent. If it would have fallen to 20 percent then water could no longer be pumped to Johannesburg and we came so close to Gauteng running out of water from the Vaal Dam”, Engelbrecht further explained.

Durban floods

In Zambia, the major risk factor is the depletion of underground water whereas eastwards in Southern Africa the risk of tropical cyclones as experienced with cyclone Idai in Mozambique and Cyclone Freddy in Malawi which killed thousands of people is worrying because they may become more frequent events.

Dr. Kawawa Banda of the University of Zambia undertook a study on Ground-Water and Rural Communities and Climate Change in the Upper-Zambezi which supports the Global Change Institutes findings that Southern Africa is ‘literally in a water crisis and SASSCAL countries are living in a time of water stress’.

Banda says sixty years of available data shows groundwater supply in the Zambezi catchment area to be at a tipping point.

‘Not only is ground-water supply being depleted due to drier conditions and lack of rain but increased population in the area and reduced flows from the Chavuma river in Zambia to the Victoria Water Falls in Zimbabwe is signaling a hydrological drought’, Banda says.


The Victoria Falls Bridge across the Zambezi River, connecting Zambia and Zimbabwe.


A hydrological drought is described as the impact of decreased rainfall on the water supply, stream flow, reservoir and lake levels and groundwater decline and in his study this is evidenced by rural marginalized communities resorting to digging shallow wells as an adaptive strategy to get water.

“In-flows of about 411 cubic meters per second of water coming into the system which is lower than a normal hydrological year which is about 1691 Cubic meters per second (roughly 20 percent of flow at the time this record was taken) will spell challenges in hydropower production and this is a major concern”, Banda’s report revealed.

According to SASSCAL, El Nino drought has caused widespread crop damage and wilting in Southern Africa with 2024 harvests expected to be below-average, import requirements are forecast to increase with the shortfall needing to be sourced from outside the region and governments have signaled the alarm that this could lead to acute food insecurity in the region with a population of 363 million growing at an average of 2.6 percent annually.

Benedick Louw of Green Horizons Namibia Farming says there is an acute shortage of grain and wheat in the region and this is made worst by the mono-culture of planting single crops which have proven to be susceptible to drought.

“We need to move away from traditional forms of farming especially when it comes to the crops we plant. We need to unlock agricultural potential and start experimenting seed varieties that can adapt to the changing climate”, Louw said in an interview.

Namibia declared a state of emergency on the 22 May 2024, joining Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe who have also officially declared states of emergency and Louw agrees with the experts at SASSCAL who say there is a need to take agriculture in Southern Africa beyond the household and invest in planting crops for export to balance the current need for imports.

“Namibia imports 50 percent of its maize needs, 9 percent of its wheat and 50 percent of its horticultural products which is not sustainable for our economy. We need to create agricultural zones that make use of modern technology and science to improve our food security”, Louw said.

Globally, ‘tipping points’ include the melting of the Greenland ice Sheet which will increase sea levels and the destruction of the Amazon Forest transforming it from a rainforest to a Savannah.

In Southern Africa, “Tipping Points” include desertification of savannahs, the depletion of underground water resources and the rise of cyclones and hurricanes all caused by global warming.

“Climate Change may bring about certain thresholds to the world where aspects of these changes become irreversible and these we refer to as tipping points. These are critical points where the climate system changes is such a way that aspects of climate change will be with us for several generations of humans no matter what we do”, Francois Engelbrecht of the Global Change Institute in Johannesburg said in an interview.

Written by: Staff Writer

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