News 2008


Africa loosing massive forest cover

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 environment.

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 world.

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 continent.

“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 degradation hotspots.

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 African continent.

“They will want tougher rules countries emissions and African countries will demand more money to climate proof their countries,” he said.

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 Africa.

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 states.

Fossil fuels

Trees and shrubs had been cut from the Jebel Marra foothills in Sudan, partly because of an influx of refugees from the conflict in Darfur.

“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.