Sahel stands at ‘ground zero’ of climate change, top UN adviser warns

Jan Egeland, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General (file photo)

2 June 2008 – Africa’s Sahel region is “ground zero” for countries trying to cope with climate change, but sufficient investment in adaptation measures and greater cooperation between neighbouring States means this does not have to lead to conflict, a senior United Nations official said today.

Jan Egeland, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, held talks with officials in Burkina Faso, the first stop on a five-day, three-country mission aimed at spotlighting the effects of climate change, the proliferation of small arms and light weapons and other challenges facing the countries of the Sahel.

“Many of the people here live on the edge even in normal times, so if there will be dramatic climate change as many predict, they will go over the cliff if there is no investment in adaptation,” he told reporters in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

Mr. Egeland said the Sahel, the semi-arid belt running across Africa immediately south of the Sahara Desert, was facing a “lethal mix” of threats, including climate change, rising food prices and the trafficking of arms and drugs into and via the region.

He called on governments in the region to cooperate more effectively to deal with the impact of climate change.

“I am not among those who believe deterministically that climate change will lead to more conflict. It can also lead to more cooperation. Look at the water wars which we were predicting 15 to 20 years ago that didn’t happen because people were able to cooperate.”

After Burkina Faso, Mr. Egeland – a former Emergency Relief Coordinator for the UN – is scheduled to travel to Mali and Niger, and in each country he is expected to visit areas that were once lakes but have now evaporated.


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