How climate change is affecting life on a campus in Yaoundé

Mekin Anatole, a first-year economics student at the University of Yaoundé 1, Yaoundé, Cameroon’s capital, happily prepares for his classes in the early morning hours.

But the journey to the university’s campus, situated less than a kilometre away from his home in the area of Melen, won’t be easy for Anatole because of the morning chill the city has been experiencing in recent times.

Yaoundé, a city flanked by seven hills, used to have mild early morning and late evening temperatures but, for the past few years, it has been experiencing a shift, including biting cold weather in the morning and heavy early rain in the month of February, which require first-time visitors to arm themselves with warm clothes, rainboots or plastic shoes and even face masks to protect their noses and cope with the climate.

“We are forced to clad ourselves in warm clothes to go to class because of the intense cold,” Anatole says.

Like Anatole, other university students in Yaoundé, who are also bound by the institution’s academic timetable to attend contact classes, sometimes as early as 6am, say they are experiencing a climate nightmare.

“It is painfully cold in Yaoundé, especially in the early mornings and late evenings,” admits Sylvia Endong, a first-year geography student at the University of Yaoundé 1.

As a result of the new climate reality in the city, university authorities say they are more lenient about the dress style of students who have been forced to adapt to the weather.

“Officially, we recommend that students dress in accordance with the climate realities,” says Aurélien Sosso, the rector of the University of Yaoundé 1.

Climate change?

Environmental data shows that temperatures in the capital go as low as 62°F or 16°C in some seasons. The wetter season lasts for eight months, from March 17 to November 16, while the dry season last only four months.

Environmental experts, however, say that, formerly, there was a dry season of four to five months, with rains from April to November. The dry season, characterised by persistent sunshine, ran from about December to March. But, in what appears to be a shift, the city has been experiencing nippy mornings and early rains, even in the month of February.

They attribute the lower temperatures and longer periods of rain to climate change.

“The sudden intense cold and early rains in Yaoundé are clear signs of climate change,” says Augustine Njamnshi of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.

The consequences of these changes include floods as well as the slowing down of economic development as the construction of road projects and other infrastructure works, for instance, are delayed by prolonged rains, Njamnshi says.

Yaoundé’s population of about three million has experienced severe floods in recent years. Heavy rains in the city in 2020 triggered a flood that submerged more than 60,000 hectares (about 150,000 acres) of land and forced thousands to flee for safety. As a result, food security was threatened.

“Needless to say, the consumers in the capital city include students who are also end users of food supplies. Challenges caused by climate change are contributing to difficulties such as forcing them to pay almost double the usual prices for farm products,” Njamnshi adds.

Environmental experts say one of the worst impacts of climate change, especially in developing countries like Cameroon, is poverty. Though poor countries cannot be blamed for the emissions that cause global warming, they are, unfortunately, among the worst hit.

Measures to curb climate impact

But the university management has joined forces with other stakeholders to fight the climate change challenge.

According to Sosso, measures are being put into place to abate the effects of climate change, especially on campus.

“It is the role of universities to set the example, not only in nature conservation and protection projects but also by [creating] impactful knowledge that contributes to the participatory management of natural resources and sustainable utilisation of natural resources,” says Sosso.

Subsequently, the university community has adopted changes to lifestyles to deal with the climate patterns.

Most the students, for instance, have learned to stock their homes with food to avoid getting trapped by incessant rains and floods.

“I make sure I stock enough food in the house because sometimes it rains heavily and our neighbourhood [gets] submerged in water [so] that we cannot go out for days,” says Mary Lum, a student at the University of Yaoundé 1.

On campus, the university management has decided to go green by planting multiple trees to douse the effects of climate change.

This is in collaboration with the ministry of the environment, says Professor Kenneth Mbene of the university’s science department.

Officials in Cameroon have also developed a national climate change adaptation programme and are taking steps to mitigate emissions as well as launching a campaign to plant 10,000 new trees annually in Yaoundé. The country’s Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife signed a deal in 2020 with 15 city councils in 10 regions of the country to plant more city trees and create new parks.

Yaoundé’s mayor says that, with the collaboration of other stakeholders, the city has been able to meet up with the tree planting project every year.

“We have planted over 30,000 trees since the project was launched,” says Mayor Messi Atangana Luc.

The effort “is a combined forest, floods, drought and water shortage protection effort”, the Minister of Forestry and Wildlife Jules Doret Ndongo said at the launch of the project.

The government says city councils will also receive over FCFA600 million (about US$1 million) annually to help curb deforestation.

Role of universities

Worldwide, the participation of communities in the fight against climate change, through tree planting and forest restoration, has assumed significance with the creation of REDD, Reducing Emissions from Destruction and Degradation, an international effort expected to become a major instrument to reduce emissions.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, deforestation and subsequent land-use change occurring in tropical developing countries contributed up to 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions in the 1990s.

Professor Amougou Joseph Armathé, the director general of Cameroon’s National Climate Change Observatory, says enhancing forest carbon stocks through tree planting in developing countries significantly contributes to the fight against climate change.

“The focus in the fight against climate change has now shifted to national and local levels with universities playing a significant role,” Armathé says.

University researchers, in particular, are multiplying efforts to address the growing climate change challenges.

According to the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), researchers are contributing to both adaptation and mitigation programmes, climate policy formulation and dialogue that are helping communities to strengthen their livelihoods in the face of climate change.

To overcome climate challenges, researchers recommend deeper participation of local communities as well as multi-institutional and multidisciplinary teams.

They also recommend that adaptation and mitigation strategies and activities consider the dual goals of reducing climate change vulnerability and greenhouse gas emissions, the CIFOR report says.

But, while scientists and activists are figuring out the way forward for communities, ordinary people like students Mekin Anatole and Sylvia Endong will increasingly feel the impact of climate change in their daily lives.