Africa loosing massive forest
Written by Abbysinia Lati
June 12, 2008
A recently launched report by Unep
shows Africa is losing four million hectares of forest cover every
year and brings vividly to light the impact of development
policies, population growth, climate change and conflicts on the
The report titled Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment, which
was done in conjunction with various environmental partners across
the continent, concludes that the continent is losing trees
two-times faster than the current rate of deforestation across the
The report is the latest effort — based on evidence on the ground
— to educate the public and government policy makers to come up
with policies to change the worsening environmental conditions of
“The results of this report are actions of the last 30 years,”
said Satinder Bindra, director of the division of communication
and public information.
The atlas shows the changing environment in photographs and
satellite imagery in before and after pictures that cover a span
of 35 years.
The report brings to light the impact of development policies,
population growth, climate change and conflicts on the environment.
The 400-page publication captures the disappearing glaciers of Mt
Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya, drying up lakes like Lake Chad which
used to the sixth largest lake in the world 40 years ago and is
now just one-tenth of its original size.
The atlas also points out some countries’ efforts in fighting
climate change. In Kenya, for instance, concerted policies have
helped reduce the wanton destruction of the Mount. Kenya forests.
Although the report does not cover the developmental programmes on
the ground, it gives a broad analysis and shows potential
Mr Bindra said the report is timely as the new agreement on
climate change convention to be held in Copenhagen in 2009 will
show the people concerned the impact of climate change in the
“They will want tougher rules countries emissions and African
countries will demand more money to climate proof their countries,”
It took two years of extensive scientific research at a cost of
$700,000 (Sh44.1 million). The book contains over 600 satellite
images, ground photographs and over 150 maps which cover every
African country in over 100 locations.
Satellite pictures, often taken three decades apart, show
expanding cities, pollution, deforestation and climate change were
damaging the African environment despite glimmers of improvement
in some areas.
“Africa is losing more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres)
of forest every year— twice the world’s average deforestation
rate,” according to a statement by the UN Environment Programme (Unep)
about the 400-page atlas, prepared for a meeting of African
environment ministers in Johannesburg.
Four million hectares is roughly the size of Switzerland or
slightly bigger than the US state of Maryland.
Photographs show recent scars in forests in countries including
the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Nigeria and Rwanda. It
notes that forest loss was a major concern in 35 countries in
And it shows that environmental change extends beyond the
well-known shrinking of the snow cap on Mount Kilimanjaro in
Tanzania, Africa’s highest peak at 5,895 metres (19,340ft), or the
drying up of Lake Chad.
On the Ugandan border with Democratic Republic of Congo, for
instance, glaciers on the Ruwenzori Mountains where the highest
peak is 5,109 metres shrunk by half between 1987 and 2003, it
Trees and shrubs had been cut from the Jebel Marra foothills in
Sudan, partly because of an influx of refugees from the conflict
“The atlas ... clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of people in
the region to forces often outside their control, including the
shrinking of glaciers in Uganda and Tanzania and impacts on water
supplies linked with climate change,” Unep executive director,
Achim Steiner, said in a statement.
The atlas said 300 million people faced water scarcity and that
areas in sub-Saharan Africa experiencing shortages were expected
to increase by almost a third by 2050.
“Climate change is emerging as a driving force behind many of
these problems,” it said.
Almost 200 governments have agreed to work out a new UN treaty by
the end of 2009 to slow climate change, blamed mainly on emissions
of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. But the atlas said
there were signs of hope.
“There are many places across Africa where people have taken
action— where there are more trees than 30 years ago, where
wetlands have sprung back and where land degradation has been
countered,” Steiner said.
Among examples, the report showed that action to prevent
over-grazing had helped a national park in south-eastern Tunisia.
A project to expand wetlands in Mauritania was also helping to
control flooding and improve livelihoods.