Sustainable mountain development in East Africa in a changing climate

Report
from UN Environment Programme, East African Community
Published on 19 Oct 2016 View Original

Reforesting Africa's highest mountain could halt severe water shortages - UN Environment

  • Rivers begin to dry up as the loss of Mt Kilimanjaro's forests triggers water crisis
  • Climate change has destroyed 13,000 hectares of the mountain's forests since 1976 – equivalent to cutting off a year's supply of drinking water for 1 million people
  • East Africa's glaciers expected to disappear within a few decades

19 October 2016 – Reforesting Africa's highest mountain could help protect vital water supplies that are under threat across large parts of East Africa, according to a UN Environment report that looks at the impact of climate change on the region's mountains.

Mt Kilimanjaro's forests are a vital source of water for the surrounding towns and the wider region. Water from the mountain feeds one of Tanzania's largest rivers, the Pangani, providing food, fuel and building materials to much of East Africa.

But higher temperatures as a result of climate change have increased the number of wildfires on the mountain. These fires have destroyed 13,000 hectares of forest since 1976. Because there are now fewer trees to trap water from clouds, the annual amount of dew on the mountain is believed to have fallen by 25 per cent. This drastic decline is equivalent to losing enough drinking water to supply 1 million people every year.

The town of Moshi, which is located in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro, is already experiencing severe water shortages as rivers begin to dry up, starving farmland of water in an area already struggling to cope with a dramatic drop in rainfall.

The report, produced by UN Environment, GRID-Arendal, East African Community, the Albertine Rift Conservation Society and Nature-RIDD was launched at the World Mountain Forum in Uganda today.

It urges Tanzania to protect Mt Kilimanjaro's water catchment area by reforesting the mountain, investing in early warning systems and making climate adaptation a top priority.

Protecting East Africa's mountain ecosystems will also help safeguard the region's vital tourism industry, which is worth $7 billion to East Africa. Mt Kilimanjaro, for example, contributes over one third of Tanzania's total revenue from tourism.

The disastrous impact of climate change on East Africa's mountains can be seen in the loss of its glaciers. Since the 1990s, the surface area of glaciers in the region has decreased by 80. These glaciers are expected to vanish completely within a few decades as temperatures increase, notes the report, which is entitled Sustainable Mountain Development in East Africa in a Changing Climate. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, East Africa can expect an average increase in annual temperature of 3.2°C by 2080.

Hydropower

The mountains of East Africa are not only highly productive agricultural areas: the rivers they feed also have significant, but largely unexploited, hydropower potential for a region crippled by a lack of electricity.

Rivers in the Nile Basin, for example, could generate 20 gigawatts of electricity while the Mau Forest could generate a further 508 megawatts – enough to meet half of Kenya's capacity.

Notes to editors

The World Mountain Forum in Mbale, Uganda is taking place from 17-20 October under the theme 'Mountains for our Future'.

Today's report is part of the Mountain Adaptation Outlook Series, which was launched by UN Environment at the climate talks in Paris in 2015. It is financed by the Government of Austria. Today's report was prepared by GRID-Arendal, the East African Community, Nature RIDD, the Albertine Rift Conservation Society and others.

For more information, please contact:

Isabelle Valentiny, Head of Communications, Regional Office for Europe, (+41) 79 251 82 36, isabelle.valentiny@unep.org