‘Human-Induced’ Climate Change Behind Deadly Sahel Heatwave: Study

A woman plants some seeds as part of a tree plantation project to reforest the Sahel. Photo: Luis Tato/AFP

The deadly heatwave that hit Africa’s Sahel region in early April would not have occurred without “human-induced” climate change, according to a study by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group published Thursday.

The West African nations of Mali and Burkina Faso experienced an exceptional heatwave from April 1 until April 5, with soaring temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius (113F) triggering a large number of deaths. 

Observations and climate models used by researchers at the WWA showed that “heatwaves with the magnitude observed in March and April 2024 in the region would have been impossible to occur without the global warming of 1.2C to date,” which they linked to “human-induced climate change.”

While periods of high temperatures are common in the Sahel at this time of year, the report said that the April heatwave would have been 1.4C cooler “if humans had not warmed the planet by burning fossil fuels.”

It added that the five days of extreme heat was a once-in-a-200-year event, but that “these trends will continue with future warming.”

The length and severity of the extreme heat led to an increase in the number of deaths and hospitalizations in the two countries, despite their populations being acclimatized to high temperatures, the WWA said.

A lack of data in the affected countries made it impossible to know the exact number of deaths, the WWA said, adding there were likely hundreds, if not thousands, of other heat-related casualties.

Countries in the Sahel region have had to contend with drought since the 1970s, as well as periods of intense rainfall from the 1990s.

The dwindling availability of water and pasture, compounded by the development of agricultural land, has disrupted the lives of pastoral populations and encouraged the emergence of armed groups that have extended their hold over vast swathes of territory in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.

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