*Food, drought and fury: UN land report brings the truth*
179 Reactions In preparation for the release on 8 August 2019, of the IPCC’s pivotal report on land and climate, Daily Maverick looked behind the frontlines of the drought in the rural Eastern Cape. What we found was not pretty. But is the reality devastating enough for the deniers in media and the government to see? Kevin Bloom Follow
“It’s gotten worse, boeta.”
For Nosintu Mcimeli Kwepile of the village of Ngqamakhwe in the *Mnquma Municipality
“I was speaking to someone here yesterday,” she said, “telling him that these big words, like climate change and climate crisis, it’s real man, it’s affecting us, especially the community on the ground.”
The thing was, as Mcimeli explained, life had been a lot easier back when she had water. Lately, her children had been sharing just one cup before going off to school. When cooking a pot of porridge, she could no longer “cook it full”. Also, the gardens of Ngqamakhwe were a thing of the past.
“It’s so horrible,” she said. “We used to have gardens. Mamas used to have veggies in their yards. You can’t plant anything now. It’s just… it’s yellow, it’s yellow. Because the grass must be green and here it is yellow all over.”
But the drought, which had been declared an *emergency
Among the *studies conducted
In other words, the economic growth agenda of a well-fed apparatchik, who from the comfort of his government office was *cherry-picking the science
And just like the Fort Hare academics, the thing that was bothering Mcimeli was the matter of peoples’ survival. Back in February 2019, when Gift of the Givers, Africa’s largest disaster response NGO, arrived in Makhanda on short notice to deliver water to the locals, they assumed they would be needed for no more than five days. But soon they were taking calls from municipalities throughout the adjacent Amathole District, where over 50,000 people in 100 villages had been without water for several months.
Ngqamakhwe was not one of those villages, so for Mcimeli there was no relief. Her only recourse, as ever, was local government.
“They have no idea what you are talking about,” she said, “Nosintu, who is that? They are so undermining.”
According to Mcimeli, a councillor had promised to accompany her to a meeting of the Eastern Cape *Water Caucus
Daily Maverick was met with a different move. Had the local councillor (as per the number provided by Mcimeli) not pretended to be someone else, we would have asked her about the disaster management plan. Was there one? If not, given the *documented
“You know, the drought here ignites gender-based violence,” said Mcimeli, echoing what she had *told
The frustrations of the young men, which were being expressed in attacks on the women, a phenomenon that had been *linked
“Those times when there was rain, you didn’t see lots of people queuing in town. Because we used to have our own food, boeta, we used to have gardens. Now the shops are full, full, full. And the prices. If you’ve got R300, you’ve got nothing.”
On 12 July 2019, unremarked upon by a national media corps that was following the civil war in the executive branch, the town of Makhanda hit Day Zero. The local Grocott’s Mail, South Africa’s oldest newspaper, at 148 years, put out a *story
Nowhere in the story was there a mention of the unhinged planetary climate, nor had the contributors dug into the archives to see if such a thing had happened in the past. But a message from the municipality’s operation manager, cut and pasted from social media, ended with:
“Godspeed, folks. It’s going to be a tough road ahead.”
Less than a month later, on 6 August 2019, the New York Times ran a *headline
“A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crisis,” it stated.
The article, which was based on a report by the World Resources Institute, referred to the fact that in major cities across the globe the groundwater was disappearing. Mexico City was drawing groundwater so fast it was “literally sinking”; Dhaka in Bangladesh was now drawing on aquifers hundreds of feet deep; Chennai in India was “finding there’s none left.”
“We’re likely to see more of these Day Zeros in the future,” a representative from the global institute told the newspaper. “The picture is alarming in many places around the world.”
Climate crisis was clearly identified as the factor driving the vicious cycle — at the same time that erratic rainfall had been rendering water supply less reliable, noted the New York Times, hotter days had been causing reservoirs to evaporate.
And then, two days later, on 8 August 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report for which the global community of scientists, policymakers, journalists and activists had long been waiting. Titled in full the “IPCC Special Report on Climate Change, Desertification, Land Degradation, Sustainable Land Management, Food Security, and Greenhouse Gas Fluxes in Terrestrial Ecosystems,” it had been touted as the most comprehensive investigation into the relationship between land and climate ever undertaken.
The *final version
For instance: “Climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions (high confidence).”
And: “Increasing impacts on land are projected under all future GHG emission scenarios (high confidence).”
Meaning, while the climate deniers in their alt-right enclaves were getting *more aggressive
“It’s been nine years now,” said Tembakazi Peter. “The rivers are drying. This is the situation that we are living.”
A resident of Mount Frere in the Alfred Nzo District of the Eastern Cape, Peter was sharing a three-bedroom house with 18 people.
“Sometimes we wake up at 4am to fetch water, before the livestock is out,” she went on, referring to the fact that the humans in Mount Frere were competing with animals for the resource.
“Some days there is no water. Then we don’t cook, we just buy bread.”
As a self-described activist, a member of *Farmers Network South Africa
“When was it? The twenty-something of June. We went to our provincial offices, the legislature. We went there to give our premier our demands, because of this climate change. Because this climate change is affecting us. But then up to this far, we never heard anything from the premier’s office.”
And what did she want him to do?
“No, we want him to come this side and see what we are telling him.”
A reasonable request, it seemed. Because a key thing that the IPCC had now highlighted was that there was a choice that needed to be made. The choice, as *summarised
The first section of the report covered the impacts of global heating, with the IPCC affirming in the strongest possible terms that the phenomenon was now real, irrefutable and playing out in real time — not least because human land use had grown to affect more than 70% of the ice-free land surface of the planet.
“Since the pre-industrial period,” the text noted, “the land surface air temperature has risen nearly twice as much as the global average temperature.”
This rise of 1.53°C since 1850, as against the 0.87°C rise in mean global temperatures, was already above the 1.5°C aspiration that the 2015 Paris Agreement had laid down as a goal — the line beyond which, as per the *IPCC special report
“Warming has resulted in an increased frequency, intensity and duration of heat-related events, including heatwaves in most land regions (*high confidence*),” it stated on page 5 of the summary for policymakers. “Frequency and intensity of droughts has increased in some regions (including the Mediterranean, west Asia, many parts of South America, much of Africa, and north-eastern Asia) (*medium confidence*) and there has been an increase in the intensity of heavy precipitation events at a global scale (*medium confidence*).”
Agriculture, forestry and other land use was now responsible for 23% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the report found, with that figure rising to 37% if emissions associated with pre- and post-production activities in the global food system were included. In terms of the vicious feedback loop this was inflicting on the world, a standout finding from the report was the fact that soil erosion from conventionally-tilled agricultural fields was 100 times higher than the soil formation rate.
At 1°C average global heating, soil erosion — like dryland water scarcity, vegetation loss, wildfire damage, permafrost degradation, tropical crop yield decline and food supply instabilities — would kick into what the IPCC termed “increasingly severe” cascading risks. Land vegetation, as a sink for carbon dioxide, would lose its effectiveness as the planet continued to heat; the projected thawing of permafrost would “increase the loss of soil carbon (*high confidence*)”; and increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide would in turn “lower the nutritional quality of crops (*high confidence*).”
A business-as-usual land use scenario, the science was telling us, would sail humanity into the perfect storm. But, as mentioned, the IPCC charted a course around the impending catastrophe — a method for mitigation and adaptation that it laid out in the land and climate report’s 200-page *fifth chapter
In this chapter, the panel noted that “consumption of healthy and sustainable diets presents major opportunities for reducing GHG emissions from food systems,” and provided as an example diets “high in coarse grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds.” It stated that combined food loss and waste accounted for a third of global food production, costing the United States alone $1 trillion per year, and that “improved harvesting techniques, on-farm storage, infrastructure and packaging” would both lower GHG emissions and enhance food security. It also declared that public health policies to improve nutrition – such as “school procurement, health insurance incentives, and awareness-raising campaigns” – could potentially change demand, reduce health-care costs and mitigate against emissions.
At the launch of the report in Geneva on the morning of 8 August, Hans Portner, the co-chair of the IPCC working group on land and climate, put it like this:
“The food system has the potential to adapt to climate change and avoid additional risks by diversifying. There are ways to manage land and reduce risks for ecosystems and people, and clearly, early action is the most cost-effective.”
And so in the Eastern Cape, if it wasn’t too late for “early” action, was it too late for no action at all?
As always, the answer to the question depended on whether the crooked were able to play straight. *DM*