Responding to the human impacts of climate change on the African continent

While commentators in the West continue to speak of the ‘What ifs’ in terms of climate change, such detached contemplation is not possible for the herders and farmers of Africa’s arid regions. Over the past ten years, eastern Africa and the Sahel have set new highs for record temperatures with alarming regularity. While some meteorologists speculated that increasing temperatures would draw more rainfall to the region, thus far the result has been less predictable weather and sustained droughts. As a direct result, according to the United Nations, 80% of the Sahel’s farmland is degraded. Similarly, East African states such as Kenya and Somalia have seen rates of warming two and a half times greater than global averages with rainfall decreasing steadily since 1980.


In the past, mediation from local leaders helped resolved conflicts arising from competition over limited natural resources. However, before long, climate change transformed the region from a battleground between man and desert, into a battleground between man and man. In recent history, traditional negotiations gave way to increasing inter-communal violence as climate change, population growth and jihadi insurgencies raised the pressure on shared natural resources to breaking point. According to UN data, climate change-driven conflict remains the biggest reason for displacement across the Sahel. The conflicts which remain responsible for displacing three to five hundred thousand people every year in Somalia are also having a huge impact through drawing communities away from areas of land which depend on a human presence to prevent their degradation.

The room for adaptation to this new reality is possible, but limited in scope. According to the African Risk Capacity (ARC) insurance group, the worsening drought is heavily affecting the budgets of nations in the Sahel, which could require as much as $3 billion in emergency aid to overcome the short-term impacts.

ACTED remains active across East Africa and the Sahel region, targeting both those remaining in the most remote areas, as well as those forced into displacement by factors beyond their control. A central element of ACTED’s strategy is helping communities develop in ways which improve their resilience to climate change-driven disasters such as droughts and floods.


In Mali, 7.2 million people face a humanitarian crisis as a result of droughts, flooding and conflict. ACTED works to help families detecting signs of malnutrition and build local capacity to deal with children suffering from acute malnutrition.

As food insecurity is affecting 2.5 million Malians, ACTED trains farmers in Gao and Menaka in the north to improve their practices, while organising livestock vaccination campaigns and overseeing the rehabilitation of large-scale infrastructures which can support agriculture.

As the Disaster Risk Reduction focal point within the ARC Consortium in Mali, ACTED has spent the past three years working closely with communities in Binga/Salakoira, Menaka, Tienkour and Tindirma to coordinate the development of contingency plans, based on a risk assessment exercise led by the communities themselves. ACTED also targeted the public with radio broadcasts meant to raise awareness of how every individual can act in some small way to reduce the impacts of floods, droughts, epidemics, sand storms and wild fires.


Conflict in Mali also has consequences for Niger, which has taken in almost 60,000 refugees from its Mali over the last year. Food security and malnutrition among children in Niger remain rife. The frequent population movements across the country also present serious health risks, given the number of people not vaccinated against meningitis, measles, and cholera, and the lack of local health infrastructures to respond to the situation.

Much of ACTED’s work in Niger targets displacement sites in the regions of Diffa, Tillaberi and Agadez, areas which host high numbers of Nigeriens who fled conflict between armed opposition groups and the government. The organisation has worked to bolster the water supply networks and manage waste from displacement sites to reduce its harmful impact on people and the environment. ACTED is also a first line responder in Niger through the Rapid Response Mechanism, ensuring that families facing the worst hardships of displacement receive food, water and shelter within the shortest timeframe possible.


Cash for work activities for Central African refugees in Gaoui camp allow them to earn a salary and participate in the improvement of community spaces

Chad continues to host almost half a million refugees, in addition to dealing with the displacement of over a hundred thousand its own citizens.

In the region of Kanem in western Chad, ACTED assists populations which are vulnerable to droughts, delayed rainfall and locust invasions. The development of small-scale market gardens has proven highly effective as an approach in the fight back against these challenges.  Communally run and serving the triple purpose of protecting soils, improving livelihoods and increasing the diversity of food in areas where levels of nutrition are poor, market gardens remain central in preventing the further abandonment of land to the elements.

ACTED also strengthens social cohesion between local and refugee population, by employing refugees to maintain and improve shared areas and infrastructures. Given how outbreaks of waterborne disease are more likely in areas which experience a sudden increase in the population, ACTED also supports these communities by providing resources and awareness raising aimed to promote hygiene and sanitation.


Falling outside the Sahel region, yet sharing many of the same challenges in relation to climate change and conflict, Somalia remains one of the most chronically vulnerable contexts in which ACTED is active. The country was on the verge of famine in 2017, following four consecutive seasons of drought. These droughts placed an immense strain on communities employed in rural livelihoods, forcing them to sell off their assets, and eventually abandon their land.

As a combined result of these droughts and the actions of non-state armed groups, over 1.5 million people face acute levels of food insecurity. 90% of the displaced population, half of whom have spent over three years away from home, reported that they would rather stay displaced than return, given the insecurity and a lack of basic services available in these areas.

Workers collect garbage during a clean-up exercise organized by the community management disaster risk reduction committee (CMDRR) in Dhobley, Somalia.

ACTED applies the THRIVE[1] strategy in Somalia. In brief, this involves approaching an area as a resilient socio-ecological system, which is capable of self-organisation, learning and adaptations to the shocks and stresses placed upon it by the climate and other man-made factors. Practically, this means engaging communities joined together through their mutual reliance upon a particular ecosystem to ensure the sustainable management of natural resources and value chain integration. ACTED proceeds on the basis of three pillars: 1) Revive: through working to restore agriculture and ecosystems, 2) Emerge: through encouraging connections between producers and markets and every level of the value chain in between, and 3) Integrate: through consolidating social networks which involve citizens in day-to-day decision making.

The idea is to allow communities to manage their land in symbiosis i.e. at every step of the value chain, ACTED works to ensure measures are integrated to secure the long term health of each sector of the ecosystem: Communities begin protecting the soil through managing erosion and ensuring that groundwater is recharged. At the level of vegetation, they promote greater biodiversity and reforestation. If they are herders, the community members apply Holistic Land and Livestock Management (HLLM) to reduce the impact of livestock on the environment.

[1] THRIVE stands for Towards Holistic Resilience in Vulnerable Environments.


While Kenya in no way faces humanitarian challenges on a scale with Somalia, the majority of people in need of assistance reside in the 85% of the country which is arid or semi-arid. For these communities, the threats of climate change are all too apparent. In 2017, the Kenyan government announced a national drought emergency as four consecutive years of decreasing rainfall had the effect of doubling number of Kenyans exposed to food insecurity. In 2018, severe floods in the counties of Mandera, Samburu and Baringo led to great loss of life, property and livelihoods, forcing thousands of people to leave their homes.

ACTED’s response in Kenya is twofold; firstly addressing the immediate needs of those effected by natural disasters through cash distributions, while also working to improve water access and management in areas where scarcity continues to stifle hygiene and sanitation standards and the capacity for communities to irrigate farmland. ACTED also trains agro-pastoralists on modern farming techniques and provides them with assets which help them adapt their practices to the additional challenges posed by climate change.

Fransisca, a beneficiary of the ACTED cash transfer program, weeding her small kitchen garden, which she started using the savings made from the cash received. The garden supplies the family with fresh vegetables to balance their dietary needs.

ACTED remains a crucial frontline humanitarian actor across the central and eastern Africa, providing rapid assessments and life-saving assistance during renewed waves of displacement. The organisation also works to make communities more resilient to the impacts of climate change and the kinds of conflicts which become inevitable as weather patterns continue to reap havoc on traditional ways of life and community-bonds.

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