Author: Global Environment Facility
Type of publication: Report
Date of publication: February 2019
The global environmental and/or adaptation problems, root causes and barriers that need to be addressed
The Gambia is located in the Sahelian zone of the West Coast of Africa. It is the smallest country on the continent’s mainland and is entirely surrounded by Senegal except for its coastline on the Atlantic. The River Gambia flows through the center of the country from east to west, dividing it in two strips of land 25 to 50 km wide. Given its small size and agro-ecological characteristics, The Gambia has limited land resources and many soils with low fertility, making food production difficult. The country faces significant developmental challenges due to a rapidly growing population, limited resources, and increasing threats by climatic change.
The Gambia is among the poorest countries in the world, ranking 174 out of 189 countries in the 2017 Human Development Index (HDI). Of its total population of about 1.9 million, 40% is rural. Poverty has increased since the 1990s, with over 60% of Gambians today considered poor (of which 63% are women). Poverty is predominantly a rural phenomenon although regional variations are strong, with a higher prevalence rate in the eastern half of the country where agro-climatic conditions are more difficult. 70% of the economically active population is employed in agriculture. Farming is normally subsistence rainfed production. Soil and water conservation measures are uncommon, and the growing number of people using unsustainable methods of cultivation is increasingly affecting the resource base.
The country faces significant developmental challenges due to a rapidly growing population, limited resources, and increasing threats by climatic change
The Gambia lies in the Sahelian agro-climatic zone and its climate is characterized by two main seasons: a rainy season from June to October, and a longer dry season from November and May. Two major geographical zones can be distinguished: the uplands and the lowlands. In the uplands, weathered tropical soils are found which have low fertility and low water retention capacity. The lowlands include the floodplain in the Upper Valley (UV) and tidal plains in the Central Valley (CV) and Lower Valley (LV). Lowland soils are at, ne and poorly drained, and at risk of saturation and salinity, particularly in the LV. The Gambia River presents fairly good water supplies while its floodplains, riverbanks and wetlands are important to local livelihoods. However, due to the country’s at topography, there is a significant marine influence while the river’s high seasonality and salinity have consequences on land use, productivity and livelihoods.
Surface water is thus rarely a source of drinking water in The Gambia because of the saline conditions in the lower reaches of the River and its tributaries, where most of the population centers are located. The potable water needs for households, tourism, industry, irrigation and livestock are predominantly supplied by groundwater sources. The Gambia is among the least water stressed countries in the world as total water withdrawal is less than 1.5 % of the total renewable water resources potential of 6.5km3 per year. However, uneven distribution of fresh sources and constraints in water resources development and management of safe drinking water make access difficult for many segments of the population, especially those in the rural areas who often rely on unsafe water sources.
Reportedly, access to potable water is a little over 86.1% while access to improved sanitation is about 64.9% (2016) across The Gambia. Open defecation is prevalent in rural areas, and most communities in the peri-urban areas are not able to provide sanitation facilities for their household use thereby contributing to high prevalence of preventable WASH-related diarrhoeal diseases. Per capita waste generation is above the capacity of the municipal councils in the peri-urban/rural growth centres resulting in severe challenges in waste management and high vulnerabilities among communities.
In addition to water contamination, The Gambia’s climate and human-induced environmental problems include deforestation and desertification. Deforestation is primarily caused by the expansion of agriculture (primarily by slash-and-burn) while land degradation is a combination of unsustainable cultivation practices and changing climatic conditions. A 30% decrease in rainfall over the last 30 years has increased the rate of desertification and influenced water availability. Furthermore, water pollution is a significant problem due to lack of adequate sanitation facilities and awareness. These problems will grow acutely in the face of a changing climate and the absence of compensatory and adaptive management strategies. A key and growing challenge in The Gambia is to sustainably develop and manage water resources to meet ever higher demands in the context of a changing climate. The impacts of climate change and variability coupled with increasing abstractions, urbanization, and poverty mean that adaptation planning and measures are essential.
From 1950 to 2000 average annual rainfall decreased by about 30% and its temporal distribution has worsened
Climate and population pressures have a significant influence on the status of The Gambia’s natural resources, and on the economic sectors which depend on those resources. Climate change is best exemplied by a negative trend in rainfall levels and a rise in average monthly temperatures since the late 1960s, which has placed tremendous pressure on resources and ecosystems. From 1950 to 2000 average annual rainfall decreased by about 30% and its temporal distribution has worsened. The start of the rainy season as well as its duration have become more variable, and dry spells have increased significantly. The Gambia experienced severe drought in 2011 and 2014 which resulted in very low agricultural production. Given its high dependence on agriculture and levels of poverty, The Gambia is considered very vulnerable to climatic fluctuations. According to the country’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), global warming trends and changes in precipitation patterns will have significant impact on the structure and performance of the economy, which rests on key sectors (agriculture, livestock, forestry, energy and tourism) which are highly sensitive to adverse weather, climate variability and change.
Changes in temperature and rainfall will alter hydrological cycles in The Gambia. The combination of global warming, sea level rise, and changes/reductions in rainfall patterns will impact the country’s freshwater resources. The steady decline in rainfall over the past decades has caused reduced quantity of freshwater ow into the River, and increased salinity in the lowlands and aridity in the uplands. Surface evaporation is expected to increase while groundwater recharge capacity to decrease. Higher frequency and severity of extreme weather events such as drought and flooding in The Gambia will lead to increasing water quantity and quality problems, including salinization in wetland and mangrove ecosystems and loss of productivity of croplands in both uplands and lowlands.
Reduction in the freshwater ow into the River Gambia has increased salt water intrusion into the estuary and its adjacent forest and agricultural lands. The reduction the groundwater recharge system has also resulted in falling water levels and reduced water columns in wells and boreholes. Changes in rainfall and temperature are certain to constrain productivity of key crops in The Gambia. Erratic and declining rainfall will affect agriculture and increase the severity and length of the “hungry season” (July-September), when staple foods from the previous harvest are seriously depleted. Moreover, land that has lost its productive capacity pushes people to urban areas, exacerbating urbanization and migration. Variability of yields will increase in the absence of compensatory and adaptive management strategies. Much of the wet season rainfall now falls in short but heavy storms, with risk of washout. This has serious implications for the environment as well as human health. There is a need to plan and ensure water availability in The Gambia, not just for domestic and sanitation purposes, but also for agriculture.
In addition to affecting livelihood security and poverty, climate change affects the health and wellbeing of populations
The negative impacts of climate change are not limited to the economic and environmental spheres, but also to health. In addition to affecting livelihood security and poverty, climate change affects the health and wellbeing of populations. It can lead to problems related to heat stress and waterborne diseases, to which a significant portion of The Gambia’s disease burden is attributable. The incidence of infectious disease transmission (malaria, dengue, yellow fever, etc.) will increase due to higher insect vector populations and infectivity caused by higher temperatures and flooding/contamination. Malaria continues to be the leading cause of death in children under age five.
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