The continent of Africa is facing a future in which climate change will kill more people than traditional causes such as malaria and HIV, according to a Ugandan environmental expert.
Dr Rose Mwebaza warned Anglican bishops from Africa in Entebbe that lakes across the continent are shrinking and drying up, crops are failing, deforestation is leading to terrible flooding and, as a result, people are fighting and killing each other over resources.
“Africa is facing several [environmental] challenges,” said Dr Mwebaza, a senior legal advisor on environmental security at Nairobi’s Institute of Security Studies. These include increased droughts and reduced availability of water; desertification – one factor in major flooding – and increased incidents of diseases in previously unaffected areas.
“Lake Chad in 1973 covered several countries,” she said. “It is reduced to a shadow of its former self. It is vanishing from the continent right in front of our eyes.”
The same was true of Mount Kilimanjaro, she said. Once covered with plenty of snow, experts predict that, within 2 to 5 years’ time, there will be none left on that mountain. “These are the things that are happening right in front of our eyes.”
“I think climate change is going to cause more deaths than many of the other traditional causes such as malaria and aids,” she said. “Whenever I say that, people look at me surprised but it’s true.”
“The Rift Valley used to be a bread basket, a fertile area… it’s now a wasteland. A lot of the rivers are completely dry. What this is leading to is that it has become a security problem. People are literally killing each other over resources.”
“[Governments] are facing the problem of malaria and several other diseases that didn’t exist before or existed only in a few locations…that is adding to the health challenges of those countries.
Against this grim backdrop, Dr Mwebaza told the All Africa Bishops Conference that there were, however, some relatively simple things that churches could do to support communities to mitigate the impact of climate change. She highlighted three things: information, energy projects and reforestation projects.
“If the church provides the community with information centres, either in the parish or diocesan office, you would be amazed at how those information centres can transform communities.” An example of this transformative information includes how to build simple pan dams to capture rainwater for irrigating crops, watering cattle and – together with water purifying techniques – to provide potable water.
A simple energy project that Dr Mwebaza explained had made a major difference in her diocese is biogas. Turning cow dung into gas that is burned for light and heat is cheap and low-tech, prevents oil smoke-related health issues, allows children to study into the evening and means less deforestation. The church, she said, could help promote such projects in dioceses and parishes.
Finally Dr Mwebaza said that planting trees would have a huge environmental impact and could also make the church considerable sums of money through carbon trading schemes. “The church is the one of the biggest landowners on the continent. If they reforested just a quarter of the land they have they could make a significant difference.”
She gave the example of a government-led reforestation project in Uganda, in Kibaale and Mt Elgon that are projected to amount to 1,500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide worth US$45 million dollars.