Climate Change and Rain

Floods are the big news, within Senegal,  greater West Africa, and internationally.  It’s the rainy season, but the amount of rain is higher than usual, a recent BBC report indicates.  Here in Mermoz, one of the comfortable suburban neighborhoods just north of the university, there’s little evidence of hardship beyond muddy streets and occasional open sewer grates swollen by the runoff and overflowing onto the street.  But the outer ring suburban shantytowns, where millions of people from rural villages have come to live while seeking jobs in greater Dakar, have been hard hitAt least two deaths from electrocution have been reported, given standing water in and around homes and the omnipresent dangling wires from electricity poles.  I’ve heard an eyewitness account (from a fellow lap swimmer and missionary) of people living on their homes’ second floors and balconies, fearful of the rising water.  Algae blooms in this standing water have been seen.  And, of course, it’s prime location for mosquito blooms as well and attendant malaria.  Cholera is a concern too, given the effect on water systems.  In the longer term, mold can’t be far behind, given the general humidity of the region.

Some believe that climate change has had an impact on this year’s rainfall.  “We’ve noted an increasing number of extreme events across the Sahel, where you can have heavy rain all of a sudden then nothing for several weeks,” Arona Diedhiou, a research fellow at Senegal’s Institute for Research and Development (IRD), said after a weeklong seminar on climate change organised by the Amma-Afrique project.  A 2005 IRIN article reports on study results linking climate change, degraded soil quality, and human health.   Amma seeks to fine tune forecasting while studying climate change effectson health.  According to  Diedhiou, “We already have seasonal forecasts reliable enough to know whether it’s going to be a dry year or a wet year, but political leaders want to know when the season will begin and how regular the rains will be. We must improve our product but we are beginning to see results.”  An Amma team planned to study the link between desertification and meningitis, which is endemic across the Sahel, by working on a study of dust in Niger in January.

And of course these climate change impacts aren’t limited to this region.  Today’s NY Times (09/24/09) reports on a recent Vietnamese government report stating that more than 1/3 of the river delta surrounding Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) could be under water if sea levels rise by 3 feet, as predicted.  The direct consequences are dire on a region that produces almost half the country’s rice crop and shelters some 17 million people.  Increasingly common storm surges would increase that level.  In addition, intruding salt water and migrating industrial pollution could contaminate the delta’s ecosystem.  Outside the Mekong Delta, the government report predicts that climate change will pose risks to the coffee crop in the Central Highlands and to the Red River Delta in the north, which could flood the capital, Hanoi.

For friends and family following this blog, a little news from the home front.  We’re settling in to urban apartment dwelling.  Although we arrived to find our 2-bedroom apartment sans fridge and fans, we remedied that within the first week.  Combined with joining the nearby swim club, the Club Atlantique, we’re managing to keep our cool, despite the thermometer hovering around 89F with 80% humidity daily.  Matthew now has one week of school under his belt at the International School of Dakar.  Thus far he likes his subjects (especially Media, where he’s producing computer animations) and teachers and classmates, but probably best of all is the commute:  our apartment overlooks the school, so Matthew leaves the house at 8:15am, walks down the five flights, crosses the street, and is in his first class by 8:30am.  I’ll post pictures of our home and environs soon.


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