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Analysis: Africa’s unreported extreme weather in 2022 and climate change

Since 2022, Africa has experienced severe, sometimes unprecedented, extreme weather events, from deadly floods in Nigeria to devastating drought in Somalia.

While global-north media covered the US hurricane season and UK 40C heat, many of Africa’s most extreme and life-changing weather events went unreported.

Carbon Brief investigated Africa’s 2022 extreme weather events and how they may be linked to climate change ahead of COP27 in Egypt, dubbed “Africa’s COP.”

Since 2022, extreme weather in Africa has killed at least 4,000 people and affected 19 million, according to Carbon Brief’s disaster records. African extreme events, especially heatwaves, often go unrecorded, so the true figures are likely much higher.

Investigation also shows:

This year, drought and famine killed 2,500 Ugandans and affected eight million Ethiopians.
Nigeria’s worst floods in a decade killed over 600 people. 76 flood victims died when a boat capsized.
Six severe storms in southern Africa, including Madagascar and Mozambique, killed 890 people this year.
July temperatures in Tunisia reached 48C, fueling extreme wildfires.
August and October floods affected nearly two million Chadians.

Extreme weather in Africa is an example of “loss and damage” caused by climate change, especially to the world’s most vulnerable.

COP27 will focus on loss and damage as global-south nations ask developed nations for funds to address climate impacts. (See Carbon Brief’s recent loss and damage special series for details.)

Africa contributes 4% of global emissions, but it suffers the most. Nigerian climate activist Adenike Oladosu tells Carbon Brief that loss and damage finance is non-negotiable.

Extreme continent

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says Africa is one of the most climate-vulnerable continents (IPCC).

Extreme weather hit the entire continent in 2022, from Algerian wildfires to South African floods.

Carbon Brief used CRED’s 1988 Emergency Events Database (EM-DAT) and UN humanitarian reports to study these events.

The EM-DAT database maps extreme weather events in Africa in 2022. The map shows the event type and the number of people affected by the event.

EM-DAT includes extreme events that meet one of the following criteria:

10+ dead.
100+ affected.
Emergency declaration.
International aid request.

(The EM-DAT is the largest disaster database, but it is still incomplete, especially for African nations, and some of the most recent extreme events to hit Africa, like Nigeria’s October floods, have not yet been added.)

Since 2022, extreme weather in Africa has killed at least 4,000 people and affected 19 million, according to Carbon Brief analysis of the EM-DAT database.

African extreme events, especially heatwaves (see below), often go unrecorded, so the true figures are likely higher.

Dr. Friederike Otto, a leading extreme weather scientist at Imperial College London, says 2022 has shown how climate change is already affecting vulnerable populations in Africa. She tells Carbon Brief:

“The biggest impact of climate change is not so much that single events have been made more extreme, but that there are even more extreme weather events in a region that already has always suffered from very high natural variability and high vulnerability. Just small changes in the number of extreme events are already having a huge impact.”

Cyclones

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, severe cyclones in southern Africa in the first few months of 2022 killed at least 890 people and affected 2.8 million (OCHA).

Included:

According to the OCHA report, storm-related rain and floods caused water-borne diseases, food insecurity, and malnutrition.

A woman carries a child as locals who were displaced from Cyclone Ana find refuge in an evacuation centre at the neighbourhood of West Ankorondrano, Madagagascar, 5 February 2022.

Cyclone Ana refugee in Madagascar carrys a child. Credit: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photos.

Malaria increased in Mozambique and Madagascar, while Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia had cholera outbreaks.

According to the report, “many families lost their food stocks when their homes were destroyed or flooded by the tropical storms” in Malawi and the Grand Sud-Est of Madagascar.

The OCHA report’s map below shows southern Africa’s cyclones (red) and their heavy rains and flooding (blue) in the first six months of 2022. The disease outbreaks and affected people (grey bubbles) are also shown on the map

Impact of tropical cyclones in southern Africa in Jan-Jun 2022

Southern Africa’s tropical cyclone impact in 2022’s first half.  Credit: UN OCHA (2022).

Dr. Izidine Pinto, a Mozambican climate scientist at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in South Africa, says cyclones originate in the south-west Indian Ocean. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Tropical cyclones and flooding is something that is frequent in Mozambique, happening maybe once or two times a year usually.”

According to the US state Joint Typhoon Warning Center, the 2021-22 south-west Indian Ocean cyclone season was “above average,” with 12 named storms and five tropical cyclones.

Pinto was part of a team that quickly analysed how human-caused climate change affected storms Ana and Batsirai this year.

Climate change increased the intensity of the two storms’ rainfall. Otto told Carbon Brief:

“We found that climate change made the rainfall associated with these tropical cyclones more likely, but there’s still a lot of open questions.

“What about the wind speeds? We looked at two cyclones, but there were actually several tropical cyclones hitting that area this year. And so a really important and still open question is, is this compounding of events becoming more likely because of climate change?”

(Carbon Brief has mapped more than 400 attribution studies, which examine climate change’s impact on extreme events.)

Pinto, the report’s lead author, says the analysis supports the IPCC’s most recent assessment of human-caused climate change:

“We found that extreme rainfall events are becoming more intense in many parts of the world, including Mozambique. We see that, when a cyclone happens, the amount of rainfall is larger compared to previous tropical cyclones.”

As climate change worsens, eastern southern Africa is likely to see an increase in average tropical cyclone wind speeds, rainfall, and category 4 and 5 storms.

Floods

2022 saw widespread flooding across Africa.

Carbon Brief analysis of EM-DAT data shows at least 29 flood disasters in Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Mauritiana, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Somalia, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

West Africa experienced extreme flooding.

According to government media briefings, a Nigerian flood has killed over 600 people and affected 1.3 million. Floods are the worst in a decade.

76 flood victims died when a boat capsized.

Climate activist Adenike Oladosu tells Carbon Brief:

“Lives are lost, classrooms submerged with water, thereby affecting education; farmers left with nothing other than an empty flood-filled landscape while economic activities are disrupted.

“This flood has cost more than Hurricane Ian [which hit parts of the US and Caribbean in September], yet the media from the global north have not given it the attention it deserves. It shows the disparity in media reporting.”

According to EM-DAT data and newswire reporting, two major floods in Chad affected 977,000 people in August and one million in October.

UN OCHA reported the country’s heaviest rainfall in 30 years during the flood. Continued:

“Through August, torrential rainfall and floods have left parts of the capital N’Djamena submerged under water and forced thousands to flee their inundated houses.

“Floods are frequent in west and central Africa during the rainy season, which typically lasts from May to October. However, this year the rains came in greater quantity, immediately flooding ponds and drainage systems. Large parts of the region are now underwater, with numerous countries recording above-average precipitation.” 

Flood victims set up makeshift shelters in a schoolyard where they take refuge after heavy rains in Ndjamena, Chad, 2 September 2022.

After heavy rains in Chad, 2 September 2022, flood victims shelter in a schoolyard. Credit: Reuters/Alamy Stock Photos.

Otto tells Carbon Brief that her extreme weather scientists are investigating how climate change affects flooding in Nigeria and neighbouring countries:

“There are lots of floods in different parts of western Africa this year and the big question that we are getting closer to having an answer to is: are they all the same event?”

Dr. Frederick Dapilah, a climate researcher from Ghana’s Simon Diedong University of Business and Integrated Development Studies, says this year’s west African flooding shows both climate change and poor planning. He tells Carbon Brief:

“The floods experienced in west Africa resulted from extreme rainfall events leading to the overflow of rivers and the spillage of artificial dams. The spillage of the Weija Dam on 3 October 2022 led to the submergence of several communities in Accra. Likewise, the spillage of the Bagre Dam in Burkina Faso on 4 September 2022, affected about 28 districts and several communities living along the Black and White Volta rivers in northern Ghana.

“The take-home message is that, in light of increasing climate change, current adaptation and mitigation interventions in west Africa are failing and are not providing desired outcomes. Hence, transformative adaptation and mitigation measures are urgently needed to protect human lives and property now and in the future.”

In 2022, Southern Africa was flooded. In April, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape floods and landslides killed 459 and affected 40,000.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa called the flood “the biggest tragedy we have ever seen.” A snap analysis led by Pinto found that two days of extreme rainfall caused it.

Climate change made this extreme rainfall twice as likely. Pinto explains:

“The main finding was that climate change contributed to the increase of the heavy precipitation that happened in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. These kinds of events can happen naturally but, because of climate change, they are becoming more intense.”

Otto says the South African flood hit “vulnerable populations”:

In the KwaZulu Natal area, lots of people in informal housing died in the event because there was just no protection.”

Human-caused climate change has increased heavy rainfall and flooding across Africa, according to the IPCC’s latest assessment.

According to the assessment, climate change will worsen flooding across Africa.

Heatwaves

The IPCC says human-caused climate change has increased heatwave intensity and frequency worldwide.

Heatwave effects on Africans are rarely recorded. EM-DAT (see map above) reported no heatwave disasters in Africa this year. (EM-DAT lists only two sub-Saharan African heatwaves since 1900.)

Despite extreme heat in many parts of the continent in 2022.

In July, Tunisia’s capital reached a record-breaking 48C. Heat fueled devastating wildfires (see below).

A local television report said Lodwar, in northwestern Kenya, had 40C temperatures in March.

Kenyan meteorologists told the station that the spring “equinox,” when the sun moves north and is directly above Kenya, caused the extreme temperatures. However, climate change made the heat worse than usual.

Local news reports say extreme heat has returned to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe during the southern-hemisphere spring months. (Otto tells Carbon Brief her team is also considering assessing climate change’s impact on South Africa’s heat.)

Pinto says heatwaves are missing from the EM-DAT database because their effects on people are not being recorded:

“Heatwaves are called the “silent killer” because their effects are invisible. Flooding and drowning deaths are easy to record. However, heatwaves make it hard to record.

“Suppose an October heatwave kills 10 people. Their deaths are unknown. “Probably, the increase in temperature caused them to go to the hospital and suffer heart failures or strokes, but the people responsible for recording the deaths do not make the association with high temperatures.”

Otto says African countries are less likely to issue heat warnings, which could put more lives at risk:

“We are currently working on a project to try and identify what are meaningful heatwave thresholds so that [African countries] can put out heat warnings for populations because at the moment that just doesn’t exist. There is no awareness of heatwaves.”The IPCC is confident that African temperatures have risen faster than the global average since the pre-industrial era and that heatwaves have increased.

In 2018, Carbon Brief reported that a 3C warmer world could fivefold African heatwaves.

Wildfires

2022 wildfires devastated northern and central Africa.

High temperatures and drought caused severe Central African Republic forest fires in February. The fires forced 500 families to seek emergency shelter, causing malaria, cholera, and polio outbreaks, according to UN OCHA.

Tunisia fought fierce fires in July at 40C. The New Arab reported fires south of Tunis forced several neighbourhoods to evacuate. According to Reuters, the fires “badly damaged” Tunisia’s grain crop.

Algeria had extreme heat and wildfires in August. More than 100 fires in north-eastern Algeria killed 44 people and displaced 2,000, according to a UN OCHA report. Continued:

“The fires also affected the livelihoods of over 6,000 people, including farmers who have lost dozens of hectares, nearly a thousand fruit trees and more than 400 heads of livestock. According to the figures from the wilayas [states], more than 6,000 hectares were destroyed by the fires. The wilaya of Souk Ahras has lost one-third of its forests.”

A burnt vehicle amid burnt trees following a wildfire in El Kala, Al Taref province, Algeria, 18 August 2022.

A wildfire in El Kala, Al Taref province, Algeria, 18 August 2022, burned a vehicle and trees. Reuters/Alamy Stock Photos.

Climate change is increasing “fire weather”—hot, dry conditions—globally.

The IPCC predicts more fire weather in northern, west southern, and east southern Africa in its latest assessment.

Famine and drought

This year, millions of people in eastern Africa, including Ethiopia, Somalia, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Chad, and Niger, suffered from severe drought.

In 2022, drought affected eight million Ethiopians and killed 2,500 Ugandans, according to Carbon Brief analysis of EM-DAT data.

The east African situation is “unprecedented,” according to UN OCHA.

According to the UN World Meteorological Organization, five consecutive rainy seasons have failed, a first in 40 years.

According to the UN OCHA report, the 2022 March-May rain season was the driest on record, “devastating livelihoods and driving sharp increases in food, water and nutrition insecurity”. More:

“An estimated 3.6m livestock have died in Kenya and Ethiopia. In the worst-affected areas of Somalia, one-out-of-three livestock have perished since mid-2021. Over a million people have been displaced in Somalia and southern Ethiopia.”

A man walks in front of a sandstorm in Dollow, Jubaland, Somalia, 14 April 2022.

Dollow, Jubaland, Somalia, 14 April 2022: A man walks through a sandstorm. ZUMA Press Inc/Alamy Stock Photo.

By September, 20 million people in the region faced high acute food insecurity, roughly twice Belgium’s population.

According to the report, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya had more severely malnourished children admitted for treatment in the first quarter of 2022 than in previous years.

Climate change hasn’t been studied in east Africa’s drought. However, previous research into Madagascar’s 2021 food crisis found that climate change played a minor role compared to poverty and poor infrastructure. Otto tells Carbon Brief:

“I think in eastern Africa the story is very similar. We haven’t really looked at west Africa, so that’s something we just don’t know. In southern Africa, it is different and there is definitely a climate change signal in the droughts.”

Northeastern Africa’s mean precipitation has decreased, according to the IPCC’s latest assessment. Droughts have not increased.

The IPCC reports more agricultural and ecological droughts in central and west Africa. Global warming is expected to worsen droughts and dryness in southern Africa.

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