Climate change is a threat to transport systems in Africa: what to do

Worst disruption to Tanzania’s multimodal transport networks could lead to losses of up to $ 1.4 million per day

Transport infrastructure, such as roads and rail systems, is one of the sectors most threatened by climate change. Extreme weather events, such as flooding, sea level rise and storm surges, repeatedly wreak havoc on transportation networks.

In Africa, extreme weather conditions are a threat that can cause significant structural damage. It can also accelerate the aging of infrastructure components. This can lead to considerable financial losses.

For example, a recent report on Tanzania revealed the vulnerability of the country’s transport systems. Long stretches of road and rail networks are exposed to extreme flooding, with increasing exposure going forward.

The report estimated that the worst disruptions to Tanzania’s multimodal transport networks could result in losses of up to $ 1.4 million per day. In addition, damage to these networks can disrupt the flow of goods and people, reducing economic productivity.

This suggests that governments need to ensure that transport infrastructure is developed with the capacity to cope with current and future climate change.

Fortunately, an effective means of ‘climate resilient’ transport infrastructure already exists in the planning machinery of governments. In our recent work, which studied the Standard Gauge Rail project in Tanzania, we show how climate change and adaptive capacities can be incorporated into environmental impact assessment procedures.

Environmental impact assessment is a widespread environmental guarantee. It is used by governments, donors and lending agencies when approving new development projects or major expansions of existing projects. The process can be used to identify climate risks and ensure they are minimized through environmentally friendly project design.

Transport infrastructure is vital for developing countries as efficient and reliable transport networks are essential for local and international trade. We hope that with a changing climate, our findings offer useful lessons for policy makers, planners and developers.

Risk verification

Environmental impact assessment is the essential process of identifying, predicting and assessing the likely environmental impacts of a proposed development action, both positive and negative. These are the risks for the project and the risks for the natural environment of the project.

Evaluation is supposed to take place before important decisions are made and commitments made. The promoters, both private and public, often call on certified environmental experts to carry out the study.

Virtually all countries have some form of legislation that requires an environmental impact assessment. These are carried out on certain development projects, in particular those likely to have significant effects on the environment. This often includes large transport infrastructure.

The study ends with a set of observations and recommendations, which regulators and developers are expected to take into account. The legislation generally provides for follow-ups to find out if they were. In countries with strong institutional frameworks, offenders often face fines, suspension of operations or even prison terms.

Because assessment should be done for large projects, it offers an efficient and direct way to include adaptation measures.

The Tanzania Railway

This is what happened with the Tanzania Standard Gauge Railway.

The railway, a $ 14.2 billion investment by the Tanzanian government, is currently under construction. It is part of the “central corridor” connecting Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It will also provide access to the Indian Ocean. The government has entrusted a Turkish company, Yapi Merkezi, with the design and construction of the first phase of the project, which covers approximately 541 km. Work began in 2017.

Because it is vulnerable to climate change – there are particular concerns about heavy flooding and landslides – the environmental impact study attempted to prepare the project for potential climate risks.

The assessment was carried out by a multidisciplinary team under the aegis of an international consulting firm, Environmental Resources Management. They made climate projections along the proposed route and defined adaptation measures to the projected risks.

Recommendations included the use of heat resistant asphalt, the installation of flood protection walls and the use of reinforced steel. They also proposed a monitoring plan outlining the main aspects of monitoring, indicators, responsible parties and timing.

Climate change issues are not explicitly prescribed by Tanzanian law and regulations relating to environmental impact assessment. The drive to complete the assessment was the result of pressure from climate-sensitive international lenders. It remains to be seen whether the recommendations are implemented throughout construction and after the project phases.

Our study demonstrates the enormous potential of environmental impact assessments to promote adaptation in transport projects. It makes sense. Most African countries do not have the resources to invest in stand-alone adaptation projects.

Roadblocks to be removed

Although integrating climate change adaptation into an environmental impact assessment is a simple step, it is not done.

This is due to several challenges, including a lack of knowledge, awareness, technical and financial resources and legislative support. Tanzania’s laws and regulations, for example, do not specifically mandate this practice.

Additionally, developers rarely go beyond what the law requires. Due to factors such as cost or time constraints, they would naturally view these requirements as undesirable. Additional project approval processes could cause delays and increased costs for the developer.

Climate protection projects

To ensure that projects are ‘climate resistant’ in the future, several steps need to be taken.

First, laws and regulations need to be formalized so that climate change is included in the assessment process. These should be supported by technical guidance and strategic planning.

Second, there is a need to make substantial investments in capacity building and awareness raising at the institutional level. In addition, climate data should be available and communication between climatologists and assessment practitioners should be strengthened.

Finally, our paper calls on providers of adaptation assistance, development partners and international lenders – such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF – to leverage their influence, for example through through financing procedures. This would increase the pressure to include climate change scenarios in the planning process.

Amani George Rweyendela, Assistant Lecturer, Department of Environmental Engineering and Management, Dodoma University and William John Mwegoha, Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Engineering and Management, Dodoma University

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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