Extreme heat in sub-Saharan Africa ‘under-reported and under-studied’

Extreme heat in sub-Saharan Africa ‘under-reported and under-studied’
23 November 2023

By the Climate Centre

A study of last month’s record-breaking heat in Madagascar published today by World Weather Attribution scientists is the first to quantify the influence of climate change on a heatwave in a Sub-Saharan African country, the group said on X/Twitter.

The WWA analysis found climate change made the October heat up to 2°C more intense than it would have been, and they anticipate that if global warming reaches 2°C similar October heatwaves in Madagascar will occur about twice a decade and be nearly 1.0°C hotter.

October in Madagascar is normally the start of the hot wet season, but temperatures last month were as high as they usually are only in December and January, its peak, and at their highest in and around the capital Antananarivo.


“Extreme heat is under-reported and understudied in most [sub-Saharan] African countries, leading to a low level of awareness of [its] dangers,” WWA add, making it “critical communities and governments take steps to become more resilient, including investment in weather forecasting, early-warning systems and heat planning.”

They add: “Heat-related mortality is estimated to increase by a factor of four by 2080, unless required investments to adaptation are made.”

The Climate Centre’s Technical Adviser, Sayanti Sengupta, one of the study authors, said today that “a temperature increase of 1–2°C might not sound like much, but an increase of even half a degree can push people to their physiological limit, causing heat stress and be fatal for the most vulnerable.

“Warmer temperatures are multiplying risks in Madagascar. At its elevation of 1,276m, the cooler climate of Antananarivo was once a barrier for mosquitoes carrying malaria, but higher temperatures have increased the range of mosquitoes and malaria cases there are rising.”

‘Physiological limit’

The WWA scientists say that informal settlements and unplanned urbanization leave many people vulnerable to heat exposure – poverty, informal economies, and loss of income during hot days “result in compounding vulnerabilities”.

They note that southern Madagascar is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of heatwaves as food and agricultural systems “are likely to collapse under high temperatures and compounding drought conditions, and frequent highly destructive cyclones”.

In its current overview of food security in Madagascar’s Grand Sud region, which from as been affected by consecutive droughts, the UN says that despite an increase in the level of humanitarian assistance “the situation remains fragile”.

Planting, already delayed for the 2022–23 season, was affected by heavy rains that brought a resurgence of locusts and armyworms, while the Grand Sud-Est region is also still recovering two back-to-back cyclones, one of them Cyclone Freddy in March.

Malagasy Red Cross volunteers ‘building back better’ in March after Cyclone Freddy. Extreme heat – the silent killer of climate change – can be even more deadly than storms and floods, and vulnerable population groups are often less well protected again it, says a new WWA study. (File photo: MRC via social media)