Africa’s rapidly changing environment 4


According to the 390-pages atlas released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), Africa is changing rapidly because of many factors like deforestation and climate change.

The already fragile environments are under pressure due to wars, the increasing population and water scarcity, a major problem as 300 million people suffer from it.

However, all these dramatic consequences could be avoided as some UNEP actions are already fruitful, and this shows that the worst could be avoided

According to the press release :

Africa’s rapidly changing environmental landscape, from the disappearance of glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains to the loss of Cape Town’s unique “fynbos” vegetation, is presented today to the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment(AMCEN).

The Atlas, compiled on behalf of the ministers by the UN Environment Programme(UNEP), underlines how development choices, population growth, climate change and, in some cases, conflicts are shaping and impacting the natural and nature-based assets of the region.

The nearly 400-page long publication was launched today by President Thabo Mbeki of the Republic of South Africa who is hosting the AMCEN meeting in Johannesburg.

Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment features over 300 satellite images taken in every country in Africa in over 100 locations. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, some of which span a 35-year period, offer striking snapshots of local environmental transformation across the continent.

In addition to well-publicized changes, such as Mount Kilimanjaro’s shrinking glaciers, the drying up of Lake Chad and falling water levels in Lake Victoria, the Atlas presents, for the first time, satellite images of new or lesser known environmental changes and challenges including :

Disappearing glaciers in Uganda’s Rwenzori Mountains, which decreased by 50 per cent between 1987 and 2003.

(…) The Atlas, compiled in cooperation with researchers and organizations in Africa and elsewhere, offers a sobering assessment of thirty-six years of environmental change, including:“The swell of grey-coloured cities over a once-green countryside; protected areas shrinking as farms encroach upon their boundaries; the tracks of road networks through forests; pollutants that drift over borders of neighboring countries; the erosion of deltas; refugee settlements scattered across the continent causing further pressure on the environment; and shrinking mountain glaciers”.

The satellite images also highlight positive signs of management that is protecting against and even reversing environmental degradation, say the authors.

(…) Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “As shown throughout the Atlas, there are many places across Africa where people have taken action– where there are more trees than thirty years ago, where wetlands have sprung back, and where land degradation has been countered. These are the beacons we need to follow to ensure the survival of Africa’s people and their economically important nature-based assets.”

(…) Between 1990 and 2004, many African countries achieved some small but promising environmental improvements, mainly in the field of water and sanitation, according to the Atlas. A few countries have expanded protected areas, currently numbering over 3,000 across the continent.

However, loss of forest is a major concern in 35 countries, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Nigeria and Rwanda, among others. This is closely followed by biodiversity loss?which is occurring in 34 countries such as Angola, Ethiopia, Gabon and Mali.

Land degradation, similarly, is a major worry for 32 countries in Africa including Cameroon, Eritrea and Ghana. Other problems include desertification?in Burkina Faso, Chad, Kenya and Niger among others?as well as water stress, rising pollution and coping with rapid urbanization.

Africa is losing more than four million hectares of forest every year, twice the world’s average deforestation rate, says the Atlas. Meanwhile, some areas across the continent are said to be losing over 50 metric tonnes of soil per hectare per year.

The Atlas also shows that erosion and chemical and physical damage have degraded about 65 per cent of the continent’s farmlands. In addition, slash and burn agriculture, coupled with the high occurrence of lightning across Africa, is thought to be responsible for wild fires.

Over 300 million people on the continent already face water scarcity, and areas experiencing water shortages in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to increase by almost a third by 2050.

Climate change is emerging as a driving force behind many of these problems and is likely to intensify the already dramatic transformations taking place across the continent.

Although Africa produces only four per cent of the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions, its inhabitants are poised to suffer disproportionately from the consequences of global climate change.

Africa’s capacity to adapt to climate change is relatively low, with projected costs estimated to reach at least 5-10 per cent of GDP.

(…) Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment contains 316 satellite images taken in 104 locations in every country in Africa, along with 151 maps and 319 ground photographs and a series of graphs illustrating the environmental challenges faced by the continent. All the materials in the Atlas are non-copyrighted and available for free use.

Individual satellite images, maps, graphs and photographs, can be downloaded from http://na.unep.net/AfricaAtlas or www.unep.org/dewa/africa/AfricaAtlas

The Atlas can also be purchased at www.earthprint.com

The digital version of the Atlas will also be released on Google Earth and other websites.


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