African landmarks at threat from global warming

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JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Some of Africa’s most famous landscapes such as snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Chad, are at risk of vanishing forever as a result of global warming, a new UN report warned Tuesday.

Unveiling the new atlas of the continent, which maps out its rapidly changing nature, the head of the United Nations’ environment programme (UNEP) said it was vital that the international community delivers a new climate agreement before a global convention in Copenhagen next year.

“We need a solution that not only delivers deep emission reductions but also accelerates the flow of funds for adaptation and the climate proofing of economies, and addresses poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals,” UNEP executive director Achin Steiner told reporters.

The atlas featured a series of images of more than 100 landmarks taken over the course of the last 35 years.

Some of the startling revelations by the report include satellite images of Mount Kilimanjaro’s glaciers which have been disappearing since the beginning of the 20th century.

The survey warned that Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, could be snow-free by 2020. It also revealed how glaciers on Uganda’s Rwenzori mountains had decreased by 50 percent between 1987 and 2003.

Lake Chad and Lake Victoria, two of the continent’s most important water sources, were both shown to be drying up.

Cape Town’s unique fynbos vegetation had also been dramatically reduced by urban development over the last three decades while the expansion of capital cities such as Dakar from relative backwaters had had a major environmental impact.

“Loss of forest is a major concern in 35 countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Nigeria and Rwanda, among others,” said the survey which was released in Johannesburg.

Africa is losing more than four million hectares (a little under 15,500 square miles) 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 tonnes of soil per hectare per year, it added.

The survey said that erosion and chemical and physical damage have degraded about 65 percent 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,” it added.

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