Global warming is tending to become one of mankind’s existential threats. Ethiopia is not immune to the effects of this phenomenon. Deforestation, erosion, land and water pollution, emission of greenhouse gases, lack of attention to developing green spaces and other factors are major factors that account for the rise in thermometer readings all around the world. The preponderance of evidence shows that these factors are driven by urbanization, population growth and the improper utilization of certain natural resources, among others.
Though figures may not be that reliable, Ethiopia’s forest coverage has soared from a lowly 3 percent to around 15 percent in a relatively short period of time. And even if commendable re-afforestation and soil conservation efforts are under way, the country’s record heat levels demonstrate that there still remains a lot to be done. Several studies have shown that climate change jeopardizes the agricultural sector both in terms of food production and livestock resources. The government adopted the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy in 2010 partly in response to the severity of the problem. The strategy aims to build a carbon-neutral economy by 2025. At a time when several initiatives have been put in motion to implement the strategy, over 10.2 million citizens are currently in need of food assistance due to the worst drought to have hit Ethiopia in the past fifty years. The hike in atmospheric temperature further exacerbates their suffering.
The CRGE strategy should deliver on its stated objective of adapting to the effects of climate change by availing the necessary budget and latest technology as well as to lessen the dependency on rain-fed agriculture and switch increasingly to irrigated farming. This needs to be complemented by scaling up the use of improved seeds and modernizing animal husbandry. It’s then that the livelihood of farmers and pastoralists can be safeguarded from the perils of climate change.
It’s not only rural areas that are affected by suffocating heat; this also had a harmful impact on the health, lifestyle and in general the day-to-day activities of urban centers across the country. Children, the elderly, the sick, pregnant and postpartum women should be singled out for special care given they are particularly vulnerable to the numbing heat. Even as cities in Ethiopia are growing at a breakneck pace that has resulted in an unprecedented construction boom, the failure to give due consideration to parks and green space should be a cause for concern. To make matters worse, the few open spaces and sports arenas have been converted into building sites or parking lots. In other words, the lungs of people in cities are on the verge of collapse.
Practically all the buildings that are springing up are in violation of basic architectural principles as they are not only indistinguishable, but also made of finishing materials which trap heat and reflect light, thereby impairing the vision of pedestrians and drivers alike. Moreover, they are built closely together, thus hampering air circulation. And most are occupied prior to completion without a certificate of occupancy in contravention of the building code. Can a city which is enjoying a construction boom and yet neglects the development of parks and green spaces be truly considered to be on the up and up? Why can’t regulators see to it that the materials used in the construction of building are environmentally-friendly? Why can’t architects’ brief expand beyond undertaking design works to include consulting on delivering aesthetics and environment protection? The physical and emotional well-being of urban dwellers demands that vital importance is attached to these and similar other concerns.
The environmental challenges confronting Ethiopian cities are not solelyconstruction-related, though. The soaring emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane from vehicles, factories and solid waste, the acute pollution of rivers prompted by the dumping of industrial effluent and other non-biodegradable waste, the straining of basic services as a result of increased urbanization, and the drought-induced shortage in the supply of water all pose a serious threat to the safety of urbanites. The lofty goals of the CRGE strategy cannot be accomplished without addressing these critical issues.
The deleterious impacts of the inexorable rise in atmospheric temperature, particularly on the health of the public, calls for a concerted action on the part of the government, the private sector, non-governmental and civic organizations, environmental activists and the public at large. The pertinent government agencies, in particular, must take it up on themselves to adopt a holistic approach in tackling the problem. It’s high time that we, as a nation, stop paying lip service to the imperative to take climate change head on and take practical measures recommended by climate scientists. Failure to do so is bound to have dire consequences for future generations.