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Where has all the water gone?
Understanding climate change from a community perspective
Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
April 2007
Charlotte Sterrett
Oxfam Australia

Acknowledgements: FANRPAN acknowledges the Oxfam Australia website as the source of this report:


Climate change

Climate change is a serious threat to the life and livelihoods of poor people around the world. Its connections to water, energy, health, agriculture, food security, and natural resources means it is already frustrating our efforts to address poverty and to secure sustainable futures for poor women and men1. Put simply, it is a serious threat to the future of our planet which if not addressed, will hinder developing countries in reaching their poverty reduction and sustainable development objectives under the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)2.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)3 in its Fourth Assessment Report, released February 2007, has confirmed that global warming is unequivocal4. Eleven of the last twelve years rank among the warmest 12 years in the instrumental record of global surface temperatures (since 1850)5. The average near surface air temperature has gone up by 0.74 degrees celsius and is accelerating, and the linear rate of warming averaged over the last 50 years is nearly twice that for the last 100 years6. Projections for 2100 show increases between 1.1 and 6.4 degrees celsius with three degrees celsius is the “best estimate” of the expected average temperature increase7. This indicates that the world is on-track for global warming above two degrees celsius, a figure widely considered as "dangerous climate change".

According to Oxfam Great Britain8, climate data for Africa for the last 30-40 years confirm the science showing global warming has taken a firm hold on the continent. If current trends continue, climate models predict that by 2050 sub-Saharan Africa will be warmer by 0.5 – 2 degrees Celsuis, and drier, with 10 per cent less rainfall in the interior and with water loss exacerbated by higher evaporation rates9. There will be more extreme events such as drought and floods, and the patterns of the seasons will shift10. As with all hazards, it is the poor, the disadvantaged and those without resources, who are most vulnerable to its effects. They are also the least able to cope and adapt. The likely impacts of climate change vary depending on the region, but for southern Africa one could expect to see; more intense floods and droughts, faster disease transmission, larger storms and more weather-related disasters, a decrease in farming productivity, movement of farming to higher latitudes, rising sea levels, coral bleaching, species extinction and loss of biodiversity11.

The Global Climate and Economic Development report points out that the divide between rich and poor will widen as a result of climate change, as the impacts of climate change will fall disproportionately upon developing nations and those most poor in these nations12. This in turn will exacerbate inequalities in health status and access to adequate food, clean water and other resources13. The critical challenge facing southern Africa is the way in which these multiple stressors and others such as HIV and AIDS, the effects of economic globalisation, the privatisation of resources, and conflict; converge with climate change; and how governments, civil society, communities and others act to address these.

  1. Christian Aid, The climate of poverty, 2
  2. United Nations Development Program. Climate change and the MDGs. Available at;
  3. IPCC assessments are the world's most comprehensive and authoritative review of the subject of climate change. The research rigorously verified through the peer-review process, and it reflects a consensus amongst all the world's governments about the state of knowledge.
  4. IPCC, Climate change 2007: The Physical science basis, 4
  5. Ibid
  6. Ibid
  7. Ibid., 10
  8. Available at:
  9. Ibid
  10. Ibid
  11. Lane, J., Sagar, A., & Schneider, S. ‘Equity in climate change”. Tiempo, Issue 55 (April 2005): p.9.
  12. The Global Climate and Economic Development report. Available at:
  13. Ibid

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