UN calls to reforest Kilimanjaro

Reforesting Africa’s highest mountain could ease East Africa’s severe water shortages, according to a new report from the UN environment agency. Vital water supplies across large parts of East Africa are now under threat from cliamte change.

Climate change has already destroyed 13,000 hectares of forests on Mt. Kilimanjaro since 1976. This is equivalent to cutting off one year’s supply of drinking water for one million people, explains the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

According to its recent report Sustainable Mountain Development in East Africa in a Changing Climate, the loss of Mt. Kilimanjaro’s forests could trigger water crises as rivers begin to dry up across the region due to climate change.

As temperatures rise, the number of wildfires on the mountain will grow, accelerating the destruction of even more forests. And as there are now fewer trees to trap water from the clouds, the annual amount of dew on the mountain has fallen by around 25 per cent.

Mt. Kilimanjaro’s forests are a vital source of water for the surrounding towns and wider region, and they feed into major waterways to provide food, fuel and building materials to much of East Africa.

Protecting the mountain ecosystem would also help safeguard the region’s vital tourism industry. Mt. Kilimanjaro contributes over one third of Tanzania’s total revenue from tourism.

East Africa is expected to experience an average increase in annual temperature of 3.2 degrees Celsius by 2080, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

The region has already been hard hit by climate change. Since the 1990s, the surface area of glaciers on East Africa’s mountains has decreased by 80 per cent, and the glaciers are expected to vanish completely within a few decades as temperatures continue to rise.


Image credit: Ninara, flickr/Creative Commons

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