A study published in the latest issue of the journal Nature Climate Change found that global efforts to track and research heat waves have largely ignored sub-Saharan Africa, and that they’re biased in favor of developed countries. This scientific blind spot is all the more egregious considering that Africa is the hottest continent, with millions of people facing growing dangers from heat waves and rising temperatures.
Climate models project temperature increases higher than the global mean temperature increase for sub-Saharan Africa, as well as longer and more frequent heat waves.
The Need to Adapt
A 2014 report by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change acknowledged that heat waves and heat-related health effects were only beginning to attract attention in Africa. One of the conclusions was that data and research gaps hamper decision making in processes to reduce vulnerability, build resilience, and plan and implement adaptation strategies.
Correcting this will require developing climate models specifically tailored to Africa, and compiling more historical climate data to observe trends and map heat spots more accurately.
Pilot programs are under way in The Gambia and Ghana, where hospitals, epidemiologists, and researchers are collaborating to study the direct effects of extreme heat on people’s health. This is a positive step, but the immediacy of the danger posed by escalating heat waves on African populations demands more urgent action.