Eastern Africa has a large variety of complex topographical features that play an important role in modulating the global climate; these include variations in its surface terrain and a large inland moisture source in the Congo basin and inland lakes (Atheru and Mutai 2002). The processes that influence climate over Eastern Africa include the ITCZ, Intra-Seasonal Oscillations (MJO), Quasi-Biennial Oscillations (QBO), tropical cyclones, jet streams, subtropical anticyclones, and other anomalies over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Others factors include disturbances from the mid-latitudes, El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO), easterly waves, equatorial westerlies, mesoscale circulations and monsoon circulation (Atheru and Mutai 2002).

Drought and floods are frequent in Eastern Africa, particularly affecting areas of southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia and eastern Kenya. Rainfall is the most important climatic factor for many African countries and its inter-annual variability has a major impact on national economies. Climatic variability over the past millennium has resulted in extended periods of drought followed by periods of heavy rainfall (Atheru and Mutai 2002). This has resulted in major disasters: alternating flooding and droughts are an important reason for food insecurity. In 2003, Ethiopia’s food aid requirements of 1.34 million tonnes amounted to over half of that for Eastern Africa’s requirements.

Sources of GHG emissions include fuel combustion in transport, household biomass use, animal waste and rice cultivation There are other minor sources such as industrial fuel combustion. The National Communications to the UNFCCC are the most authoritative statements by Eastern African governments on climate change and related impacts on their economies. The contribution by the sub-region to the global GHG concentrations still remains unquantified. The National Communications to UNFCCC, however, serve to provide a baseline for future studies.

Increasingly, there are reports pointing to the emerging importance of dust as a key factor in the subregion’s climate variability and change. Dust storms over the eastern plains of Somalia, northeast Kenya, northern Sudan and Ethiopia are common phenomena through most of the year. Dust is one of the least understood components of the Earth’s atmosphere and it may have a greater importance for climate change than has been realized up until now (RGS 2004). As dust deposits increase, levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could change, which in turn would affect temperatures and rainfall.

Progress has been made in assessing the vulnerability of local communities and ecosystems to climate change. For instance, the Assessment of Impacts and Adaptations to Climate Change (AIACC) study shows that climate change has altered the microclimates in the highlands. Analysis of time-series data from 1978 to 1999 reveals that the maximum and minimum temperatures have changed, with significant increases generally recorded at all sites. Analysis of data over the period 1961-2001 also reveals decreasing rainfall. The temperature changes have been more pronounced at the higher altitudes than in the lowlands with, for example, temperatures in the Kabale district of Uganda increasing dramatically by 2°C in the last three decades (Wandiga and others, forthcoming).

The temperature increases in the eastern highlands have resulted in an increased range for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. There have been increasing malaria epidemics in the highland communities. Communities living at altitudes above 1 100 m are more vulnerable to malaria epidemics due to lack of immunity (ECA 2005a).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns of potentially disastrous global warming effects on agriculture and water supplies in tropical and sub-tropical Africa. Even a small increase in temperature will mean a decrease in agricultural production (Wandiga and others forthcoming, CGIAR 2000). There is gradual yet dramatic disappearance of glaciers on the Ruwenzoris in Uganda and Mt Kenya. The ice cap on Mt Kenya has shrunk by 40 per cent since 1963, and a number of seasonal rivers that used to flow from atop the mountain to the surrounding areas have since dried up (ECA 2005b). The snow and glaciers act as water towers and thus towns and farming communities around the mountains will be affected.

Eastern Africa has a very high rate of urbanization. In 1980, the urban population was just over 10 million people and by 2005 it had reached 37.14 million (WRI 2005). Increased activities in key economic sectors are contributing significantly to air pollution. Although the manufacturing sector is responsible for part of the pollution, the transportation sector is increasingly being recognized as the highest polluter, emitting atmospheric reactive gases and other toxic chemicals. These gases, including sulphur, are products of combustion of diesel and gasoline.

There are also concerns on the contribution of household emissions to the GHG load. In Kenya, for example, charcoal production and consumption are believed to be emitting more GHGs (mainly CO2, CH4 and NOx) than the industry and transport sectors combined (Republic of Kenya 2002). The use of traditional kilns in the charcoal production process, characterized by low efficiencies in the range 8-15 per cent, has been found to be responsible for about 4 per cent of the global biomass burning-derived CH4 emissions and 0.12 per cent of all known sources (Kituyi 2000). Besides emission of GHGs, biofuel production and consumption has other important impacts. They contribute to acute respiratory infections (ARI) in children under 5 through emissions of particulate matter (PM), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and CO2.

Though not to the same level, governments have demonstrated commitment to conserving the atmosphere through regional and international initiatives. They have all ratified the UNFCCC and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) – this being a key indicator of commitment in its own right. Some have also ratified the Kyoto Protocol, which came into force in February 2005.

Box 4: National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA)
The National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) has been established to address the urgent and immediate national needs of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for adapting to the adverse impacts of climate change and for preparation of national communications to the UNFCCC. It is funded through the GEF from a special LDC fund established at the Seventh Conference of the Parties (COP-7). AnLDC expert group was established at COP-7 to advise on the preparation of NAPAs. National Adaptation Programmes of Action will serve as simplified and direct channels of communication for information relating to the urgent and immediate adaptation needs of the LDCs as they prepare for the predicted impacts of climate change.
   While the NAPA identifies urgent and immediate action, it still needs to fit within development goals, plans and frameworks, especially in relation to rural citizens and economic development plans for the country. NAPAs will not attempt to implement broad national development goals but will build upon national goals and integrate into national plans. They should also promote synergies with other plans of action, and action in the context of other Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). Most, if not all, countries have elaborated their development goals, and have systems in place to implement the associated plans through economic planning, among other things. It is important that the NAPA team be aware of these, because NAPAs may be expected to safeguard important systems, including infrastructure, that would be critical in achieving economic goals for the country. For example, a NAPA may wish to flood-proof a single bridge that connects a major cash crop producing area of a region.

Source: UNFCCC 2002

There are a number of initiatives focused on sustaining atmospheric resources, including the NEPAD-EAP Programme 5: combating climate change; the CDM defined under Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol which provides opportunities for mitigating climate change through energy conservation and emission reduction initiatives; the NAPA driven by the UNFCCC process which provides opportunities for LDCs to develop their agenda for adaptation to climate change (see Box 4); and the World Bank’s Clean Air Initiative in SSA which was launched in 1998 as a response to deteriorating air quality attributed mainly to increased traffic and the changing landscape of African cities as a result of rapid urbanization.

With respect to capacity-building for monitoring, prediction and early warning, a WMO-supported Drought Monitoring Centre (WMO-DMC) has been established in Nairobi, Kenya, but unfortunately this is under-utilized. Climatic monitoring and skilful seasonal climate prediction is crucial for proper planning and management of all climate-sensitive activities including agriculture, water resources and hydroelectric power generation among others. A few universities also offer meteorology studies leading to both graduate and post- graduate degrees. These need to be revised to take into consideration the identified concerns. The Inter- University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) could play a key role in ensuring cross-border learning and information exchange at the universities.

The greatest threat to the success of interventions to protect the atmosphere is low funding for government programmes and projects. This is mainly due to low budgetary allocations by governments in the sub-regions and low interest by donors on the subject, who instead are interested in HIV/AIDS etc. Most national policies remain weak mainly on elements of regional cooperation, technology transfer, and cross-border training to optimize sub-regional opportunities. Most countries lack appropriate mechanisms for domesticating key multilateral environmental agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol, among others. This is also attributed to weak national and regional institutions – weak in terms of programmatic focus, funding levels and overall organizational structures. Lastly, atmosphere-related issues rarely rank high on any country’s political agenda compared to health or food security issues. The natural links between drought and poverty or food insecurity, and air pollution and human health, for instance, have not been made clear to politicians and other critical decision-makers. They therefore remain of low priority on the political agenda.