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[BENIN] Average temperatures across the Sahel have risen by around one degree Celsius over the past 40 years, according to a study identifying potential climate 'hotspots' in the region.

The report, published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), analysed historical climate trends across the Sahel, and aimed to identify potential hotspots and the impact on livelihoods in the region. It was launched last week (5 December) at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 17) in Durban, South Africa.

A series of maps was produced, focusing on four climate indicators based on available data between 1970 and 2009 — precipitation (1970–2006), temperature (1970–2006), occurrence of drought (1982–2009), and occurrence of flooding (1985–2009).

Projected sea–level rise and its potential impacts, as well as population trends and occurrences of conflict during the time period, were also mapped.

A total of 19 areas, which saw the biggest changes in each climate indicator as well as the largest cumulative change of all four, were identified as potential climate 'hotspots'.   

Half of the 17 West African nations mapped experienced a temperature increase of 0.5–1 degree Celsius between 1970 and 2006, while 15 per cent of the region — in far eastern Chad and northern Mali and Mauritania — saw a rise of more than one degree Celsius

In addition to rising temperatures, the study also found that at the incidence of extreme conditions, such as droughts, rainfall and the frequency of flooding, have all increased, leading to more competition for limited resources.

Trends in the movement of people and livestock have also changed, with traditional migration patterns increasingly shifting further south.

"The effects of climate change will intensify deterioration and stress of any kind, posing an obstacle to the fight against poverty," Euloge Ogouwale, a researcher and lecturer in the department of geography at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin, told SciDev.Net.

"The results of this study are very [important] and can help with making high-level decisions to help  reduce the vulnerability of populations by anticipating potential conflicts based on access to natural resources," he added.

UNEP's executive director, Achim Steiner, said: "This analysis underlines how competition between communities for scarce resources, especially land, water and forests, is already a reality in West Africa".

Regional cooperation will be key to minimising the possibilities of increased conflict and environmentally induced migration, he added.