What are South Africa’s risks and vulnerabilities to climate change?

by Ofentse Sefolo
What are South Africa’s risks and vulnerabilities to climate change?

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recently launched the second edition of an atlas showing South Africa’s vulnerability to climate change. The South African Risk and Vulnerability Atlas (SARVA) disseminates spatial and non-spatial data that describes, assesses and evaluates the risks and vulnerabilities facing the country due to climate change. Its goal is to help the country’s economic and social sectors take informed decisions to avoid risks related to climate change.

The hard copy of the atlas is supported by an online portal called SARVA 3.0. The portal is an online spatial database that directly supports users and allows free access to useful information on the impact of climate change on industries and society. It has been designed to ensure that existing knowledge on global change risks and vulnerabilities is available to those who could benefit from its use.

There has been an increased frequency in extreme weather events such as heat waves, droughts, thunderstorms and dry spells in South Africa. These weather events have the potential to increase vector-borne diseases and lead to food, energy and water insecurity, which will consequently threaten livelihoods. The country has also experienced an El Nino-related drought reported to be one of the worst meteorological droughts since 1904.

According to the Financial and Fiscal Commission report, the 20 most vulnerable municipalities in South Africa are rural, small towns and secondary cities. Decision makers and planners in South Africa need to move from reactive crisis management approaches to proactive climate change and disaster risk management approaches.

Settlements are becoming vulnerable to risks through swelling poverty, lack of basic services and human rights, and their extension into unsafe land, said CSIR Natural Resources and Environment Executive Director, May Hermanus, at the launch of the atlas.

“Their vulnerabilities are expected to increase because of the high levels of informal housing and the lack of efficient management of these growth areas. Rural areas are particularly vulnerable because of their dependency on climate-sensitive resources such as water and an agrarian landscape,” said May. “However, climate change will affect livelihoods beyond living conditions and infrastructure. It is important for government, business and research institutions to work together to respond to these issues immediately, towards South Africa’s sustainable development.”

Speaking at the launch, the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Deputy Director-General: Socio-Economic Innovation Partnerships, Imraan Patel, said the atlas was a science policy initiative of the DST’s Global Change, and was a repository of the most up-to-date information to support decision-making at local and national levels in South Africa.

“In a data driven world, the importance of analytical tools that can make sense of the plethora of data is self-evident. Proper analysis and the capacity to use such information will inform the innovation and technological improvements that enable South Africa to implement its nationally determined contributions to combat climate change,” said Mr Patel, adding that the atlas could serve as an educational tool to provide evidence of potential impacts of climate to communities and decision-makers.

For more information, contact the CSIR on +27 (12) 841 2911 via www.csir.co.za.

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