Building greater sustainability, climate resilience in West Africa



By Titilayo Adewumi, Regional Sales Director: West Africa at SAP

LAGOS, Nigeria, Feb 25, 2021 – / African Media Agency (AMA) / – Across Africa, urban centers are expanding rapidly as the continent’s large and growing young population seeks better fortunes in the city. In 2020, Kinshasha was the seventeenth largest city in the world by population size, and Lagos the eighteenth largest. However, the staggering rate of urbanization will soon make Africa’s major metropolises the largest in the world.

By 2100, Lagos is expected to be home to 88.3 million people, making it the largest city in the world, closely followed by Kinshasha, with 83.5 million people. The relatively small Niamey, the capital of Niger, will grow at a dizzying rate from 2.1 million people in 2010 to more than 56 million people in 2100.

This population growth will challenge governments and policy makers to radically rethink their sustainability efforts. The UN has designated West Africa as a climate change hotspot, and rising temperatures and changes in rainfall are expected to decrease crop yields and production.

West Africa is highly dependent on agriculture for both food security and economic growth. The way the region is tackling the twin challenges of poor water supplies and plastic pollution could provide useful insights on how we build greater resilience against the effects of climate change.

Protection of rare water resources

Cities and governments had to cope with the likely impact of climate change on their populations after Cape Town’s near miss on Day Zero, the day the municipal water supply would have been cut off after the dams supplying the city to dry up.

Researchers from Stanford University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that human-caused climate change made the Day Zero drought five to six times more likely. The researchers went on to say that such extreme weather events could go from rare to common by the turn of the century.

There is tremendous urgency in building greater resilience for West African cities like Niamey, where the entire population depends on a single source of water. The Sahara Desert is expanding due to the effects of climate change, and nearby Lake Chad has declined by 90% since the 1960s.

To assist with its own water management efforts, the City of Cape Town has combined smart water infrastructure with data analytics to provide decision makers with reliable and actionable information on the city’s water use.

As urban centers in the West African region continue to expand at a breakneck rate, increased use of technology could help conserve scarce water resources and help build towards greater sustainability.

The scourge of plastic pollution

Current estimates are that the human race has produced more than 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic, and this number is growing at a rate. The global plastics industry today produces an additional 380 million tonnes of plastic annually, roughly the weight of each person on Earth combined. At the current rate, approximately 12 billion tons of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the wild by 2050.

Efforts to recycle plastic have also stalled. As of 2015, only 9% of the total volume of plastic waste had been recycled: 79% goes to landfills or ends up polluting the natural environment.

A key issue affecting the plastic recycling rate is cost: Newly produced plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic, thanks in large part to the heavily subsidized fossil fuel industry that can produce plastic cheaply.

According to Greenpeace, a kilogram of empty metal cans can cost between ten and fifteen times the value of plastic scrap in Nigeria.

An alliance of major plastic producing companies called the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, which includes some of the largest oil and chemical manufacturers, has pledged $ 1.5 billion to address the flow of plastic waste into the environment. Greenpeace estimates that this corporate commitment is only 1% of the estimated $ 150 billion it will cost to clean plastics from the sea.

However, a new multi-stakeholder model piloted in Ghana could provide a useful blueprint for more effective plastic recycling and waste management.

The Story of Ghana Waste Pickers

In Ghana, an innovative pilot project between the World Economic Forum (WEF), Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) and SAP is increasing visibility within the plastics supply chain in hopes of benefiting individuals, businesses and the environment.

The project involves more than 2,000 recyclers from Ghana and aims to measure the amounts and types of plastic they collect. The data is then analyzed and compared to market-related prices paid along the value chain both locally and internationally.

This allows civic businesses to pay a premium for socially responsible plastics and gives recyclers the opportunity to earn fairer wages. Policy makers can also use the data to determine optimal locations for recycling facilities.

Ghana generates approximately 1.1 million tonnes of plastic waste each year, and only 5% is collected for recycling. This new pilot project is currently running in several cities in Ghana, with the hope of expanding to the rest of the region and ultimately the continent.

In an encouraging sign, Nigeria became the fourth nation to join the Global Plastic Action Partnership after signing on to the recent Davos Agenda on January 27, 2021. Nigeria joins Indonesia, Ghana and Vietnam in pioneering a system change model to shift towards a circular economy. for plastics with the establishment of the Nigeria Plastic Action Partnership.

Africa is expected to suffer the most severe consequences of climate change of any continent. Changing weather patterns and changes in rainfall are expected to drive human migration to major cities and put enormous pressure on scarce local resources. Mobilizing the ingenuity of the continent and using technology to improve resource management can help countries achieve greater sustainability and resilience in the face of a rapidly changing climate.

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