Palaeo-research in Africa: relevance to sustainable environmental management and significance for the future
Olago, Daniel O.
Odada, Erico O
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Africa’s environment is closely linked with its climate, so that climatic constraints have been a major force in the development of vegetation, soils, agriculture and general livelihood (Nicholson 2001). The African continent, one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change, is subject to frequent droughts and famine. These events reflect the large range of climatic variability that envelops mean trends in the major climatic parameters such as temperature and precipitation. Africa will experience the effects of the human-induced changes in climate, but much work remains to be done in trying to isolate those aspects of African climate variability that are natural from those that are related to human influences (Hulme et al. 2001). However, the current economic decline caused by high rate of population growth, inefficient resource use, weak institutional capacity, inadequate human resources, low levels of investment and savings and a general decline in income and living standards is expected to impair Africa’s capacity to respond effectively to disruptions emanating from climate change (Ottichilo et al. 1991). Nonetheless, effective responses to climate change impacts can only evolve from an understanding of the driving forces of climate change and from effective prediction of the future state, not only on seasonal or annual time-scales, but also on inter-annual and decadal timescales. The short instrumental record in Africa (mainly from the late 1880s to present) does not provide an adequately long time-series to capture and understand fully the range of natural climate variability, nor the frequency and intensity of unique events such as El Niño. It is an impediment to the recognition and understanding of the complex workings and interactions of long-term (decadal, inter-decadal or centennial scale) features of the climate system. For this, we have to turn to the palaeo-records archived within the continent.