Climate Change and African Rivers

Back to Resources
First published on
This resource has been tagged as a Page

“>over-dependent on hydropower for their grid-based electricity, and many have already suffered drought-induced energy shortfalls. A dryer Africa could also see shrinking forest reserves, and a reduction in fuelwood for cooking (which now accounts for the majority of Africans’ energy use). Diversifying away from over-dependence on hydropower is key to increasing the resilience of African economies to climate change.

Adapting to change

As in many parts of the world, millions of Africans rely directly on rivers for their livelihoods.  Large dams will make it harder for them to adapt to climate change.  In a time of growing water stress, dams will reduce water quality and availability for people living downstream.

Dam reservoirs lose large amounts of water through evaporation. More than seven percent of all the freshwater consumed by humans is lost through reservoir evaporation. Sub-Saharan Africa already suffers from the highest water stress in the world, and climate change is making it worse. Big hydropower dams don’t address this problem, and the benefits they do bring are as ephemeral as the rain.

Climate adaptation for Africa’s small farmers requires locally useful projects such as rainwater harvesting, affordable drip irrigation, and other water–saving farming techniques. Such measures reduce poverty at a lower cost. For every billion dollars spent on large dams, five million small farming families could be lifted out of poverty with these kinds of approaches.


Climate change and rivers

The Wrong Climate for an African Dam Boom (blog)

Climate Change: Risks to Zambezi Dams (infographic)

Africa’s Perfect Storm? World Rivers Review, Aug. 2006

Wrong Climate for Damming Rivers (Google Earth video and fact sheet)

Wilson Center: Climate change, water and conflict in Niger River Basin