Deadly African Heatwave ‘impossible’ due to Climate Change

Scientists assert that the deadly heatwave in West Africa and the Sahel would not have been possible without the influence of human-induced climate change.

Last month, Mali experienced scorching temperatures exceeding 48C, which unfortunately led to numerous fatalities, as reported by a local hospital.

Scientists have found that certain human activities have caused temperatures to rise by up to 1.4C above average.

Another study addressing drought in Southern Africa attributed the cause to El Niño, rather than climate change.

Several countries in the Sahel region and across West Africa experienced a severe heatwave that occurred from late March to early April.

The intense heat was particularly experienced in the southern regions of Mali and Burkina Faso.

In Bamako, the capital of Mali, the Gabriel Toure Hospital reported a total of 102 deaths in the first days of April.

A significant number of individuals who passed away were above the age of 60, with the hospital attributing heat as a contributing factor in numerous cases.

Experts suggest that global climate change played a significant role in this prolonged period of extreme heat.

Scientists involved with the World Weather Attribution group have conducted a new analysis, revealing that the recent high day time and night time temperatures are closely linked to long-term human activities like the use of coal, oil and gas, as well as deforestation.

Based on the study, it was found that climate change led to temperatures in Mali and Burkina Faso being 1.5C higher than usual, with nights being even hotter at 2C above the average. The temperature in the region increased by 1.4C over the course of five days.

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“To certain individuals, the slight rise in temperature of a heatwave, attributed to climate change, may not appear significant,” commented Kiswendsida Guigma, a climate scientist at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre in Burkina Faso.

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“But this additional heat would have been the difference between life and death for many people.”

Although intense heatwaves are currently infrequent in this area, scientists predict that their occurrence will increase due to climate change.

Scientists have noted that due to the increase in average global temperatures, events similar to the recent one in Mali are now expected to occur once in every 200 years. However, in the event that global temperatures exceed 2C, the frequency of intense heatwaves would increase to once every 20 years.

Although human involvement is evident in this event, the severe drought that struck countries in southern Africa earlier this year tells a different story.

Insufficient rainfall resulted in crop failures in multiple nations, leaving approximately 20 million individuals grappling with food scarcity. Reports from Zambia and Zimbabwe indicate that water shortages have led to the outbreak of cholera, resulting in states of disaster being declared in both countries. The neighbouring country of Malawi has also been affected by this crisis.

Scientists analysed temperature and rainfall data to investigate the factors behind the drought.

It was discovered that climate change did not play a major role in the low rainfall experienced during the December-February period across the region.

However, they attribute the cause to the El Niño weather phenomenon.

The emergence of warm water in the Pacific has been found to have significant effects on weather patterns in various regions.

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The recent El Niño reached its highest point in December, causing a significant decrease in rainfall throughout southern Africa, according to researchers.

In a world with higher temperatures, droughts like this would happen more frequently. However, scientists have discovered that in an El Niño year, the chances of droughts occurring double.

“In the past year, studies on attribution have revealed that a number of severe weather events have been influenced by a combination of climate change and El Niño,” stated Joyce Kimutai, a researcher at Imperial College London.

“The drought in southern Africa seems to be a less common occurrence, largely influenced by El Niño.”

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