In NASA satellite images, forest fires in central Africa appear to burn alarmingly like a red chain from Gabon to Angola similar to the blazes in Brazil’s Amazon that sparked global outcry.
At the G7 summit this week, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted about the central Africa fires and said nations were examining a similar initiative to the one proposed to combat Brazil’s blazes.
G7 nations have pledged $20 million on the Amazon, mainly on fire-fighting aircraft.
Macron’s concern may be legitimate, but experts say central Africa’s rainforest fires are often more seasonal and linked to traditional seasonal farming methods.
No doubt the region is key for the climate: The Congo Basin forest is commonly referred to as the “second green lung” of the planet after the Amazon.
The forests cover an area of 3.3 million square kilometres in several countries, including about a third in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the rest in Gabon, Congo, Cameroon and the Central African Republic.
Just like the Amazon, the forests of the Congo Basin absorb tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in trees and peat marshes – seen by experts as a key way to combat climate change. They are also sanctuaries for endangered species.
But most of the fires shown on the NASA maps of Africa are outside sensitive rainforest areas, analysts say, and drawing comparisons to the Amazon is also complex.
“The question now is to what extent we can compare,” said Philippe Verbelen, a Greenpeace forest campaigner working on the Congo Basin.
“Fire is quite a regular thing in Africa. It’s part of a cycle, people in the dry season set fire to bush rather than to dense, moist rainforest.”
Guillaume Lescuyer, a central African expert at the French agricultural research and development centre CIRAD, also said the fires seen in NASA images were mostly burning outside the rain forest.
Angola’s government also urged caution, saying swift comparisons to the Amazon may lead to “misinformation of more reckless minds”.
The fires were usual at the end of the dry season, the Angolan ministry of environment said.
“It happens at this time of the year, in many parts of our country, and fires are caused by farmers with the land in its preparation phase, because of the proximity of the rainy season,” it said.
Different risks –
Though less publicised than the Amazon, the Congo Basin forests still face dangers.
“The forest burns in Africa but not for the same causes,” said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, an ambassador and climate negotiator for the DR Congo.
“In the Amazon, the forest burns mainly because of drought and climate change, but in central Africa, it is mainly due to agricultural techniques.”
Many farmers use slash-and-burn farming to clear forest. In DR Congo, only nine per cent of the population has access to electricity and many people use wood for cooking and energy.
DR Congo President, Felix Tshisekedi has warned the rainforests are threatened if the country does not improve its hydro-electric capacity.
Deforestation is also a risk in Gabon and parts of the DR Congo, as well as damage from mining and oil projects.
Some countries are now implementing stricter environmental policies. Gabon, for example, has declared 13 national parks that makeup 11 per cent of its national territory.
DR Congo has declared a moratorium on new industrial logging licences but that has not stopped artisanal cutting, which industrial loggers can exploit.
“We need to protect the forests that are still largely intact and stop degradation,” said Greenpeace’s Verbelen.
“The forests that are still intact remain an important buffer for future climate change.”
A Nation Making Huge Strides in Rebuilding
Rwanda is making significant progress in moving on from its ugly past
In April 1994, ethnic tensions between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority boiled over, and what had been decades of mutual distrust ultimately escalated into a full-blown catastrophe. Over 800,000 Tutsi were murdered by Hutu militant groups, with many women raped, and hundreds of thousands of children rendered homeless.
The genocide, which stretched for three months, was met with a slow response from the international community, and many people were forced to flee into neighbouring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The events of that dark period in Rwandan history illustrated in movies like “Hotel Rwanda” and “Sometimes in April”, left a trail of effects, some of which included post-violence trauma, increased distrust, hate and proliferation of pregnancies as a result of rape.
Twenty-five years have passed, and it has been a long, tortuous road to healing for all Rwandans, but commendable efforts have been made. Reconciliation and rehabilitation centres abound in various parts of the country, and there has been significant investment in technology, making Rwanda one of the few shining lights in a continent plagued by poverty and corruption. It is also worthy of note that there is significant female representation in Rwanda’s legislative houses: for context, Rwanda has one of the world’s highest proportions of women in power as 61% of members of parliament and 50% of the cabinet are female.
One aspect of the reconciliation process that needs elaboration, though, is the social work profession. Established after the genocide, social work has been integral to Rwanda’s healing process, through homegrown solutions or indigenous models of development that address the many layers of social wounds. Social workers in Rwanda have been heavily involved in programmes such as community work, local collective action and the indigenous practice of girinka, which makes for the provision of one cow for every poor family. There are also initiatives, such as the Hope and Homes for Children, which cater to children who may have been abandoned as a result of parental trauma resulting from rape, family isolation, drug abuse, vulnerability and stigma towards children with disabilities.
Rwanda’s success story is one that many African nations can take a cue from. Who is to say that countries like Sierra Leone would not be a lot better off if there were more women in positions of power? What if there had been more concrete efforts to ensure reconciliation between the Igbo and the rest of Nigeria after the civil war? These are the unanswered questions, but it is beautiful watching Rwanda thrive after the horror show of 1994.
DR Congo rainforest attacked on all sides
Lush rainforest covers millions of hectares of the Democratic Republic of Congo, a central part of Earth’s natural defence against global warming — but it is under severe threat from a perfect storm of mismanagement.
An array of global and local NGOs are in a tense fight to save the rainforest, which lost an area twice the size of Luxembourg last year alone, according to Global Forest Watch.
But the problems run right through DR Congo society — from the poor who rely on charcoal for fuel in a country with meagre supplies of other power, to the senior officials who profit from illegal logging.
“There are lawmakers and soldiers involved. They don’t pay taxes — it’s unfair competition,” says Felicien Liofo, head of a wood craftsmen’s association.
Local police say soldiers simply rip apart the fences around the forest and threaten to shoot anyone who tries to stop them.
– NGOs fight back
The government faces a daunting challenge to protect the rainforest.
Its 2002 forestry code imposed a moratorium on new concessions and regulated the number of trees that could be chopped down under existing permits, but officials complain of a lack of resources.
Felicien Malu, a provincial environment coordinator, has roughly 1,200 workers to cover a province twice the size of Portugal.
But his staff, he says, are not paid and lack even the basic tools of their trade — boats, motorcycles or pickup trucks.
“We can’t organise control missions because there are many rivers to cross and unpaved roads,” he says.
His predecessor in the job was suspended for embezzlement, underlining how corruption feeds the problem of deforestation.
NGOs have launched a multi-pronged attack against the plunder.
Greenpeace Africa and a coalition of eight NGOs from DRC and neighbouring Congo-Brazzaville have demanded a halt to all industrial activities in the millions of hectares of peatland shared by the two countries.
The ancient wetlands store huge amounts of carbon, but companies are involved in oil exploration, logging and industrial agriculture in the area.
Global Witness investigated the illegal logging trade and earlier this year accused a general in the Congolese army of illegally reselling logging permits.
However, electricity in DRC is a rare luxury, meaning that most Congolese still rely on charcoal as their main fuel supply.
Making charcoal involves chopping down trees and slow-burning the wood in covered ovens — all of which comes at a steep price for the environment.
“I get through a $30 sackful every two months. That’s a fair chunk of what I earn,” says Solange Sekera while shopping at a market in the eastern city of Goma. “We have no other means of preparing meals.”
Our forests may disappear’ –
The charcoal trade — known locally as Makala — is worth millions of dollars and it is attracting armed groups to the Goma area, threatening Virunga natural park, a sanctuary for endangered mountain gorillas.
More than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) to the west, the reliance on charcoal in Kinshasa is also causing severe problems.
Kinshasa residents consume five million tonnes of wood a year, according to French research group Cirad, and increasing urbanisation is just raising the pressure on the forests.
On the hillsides around the capital, there are scarcely any trees left.
NGOs and the government are once again trying to respond.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) is trying to minimise the impact of charcoal burning by introducing “eco makala” ovens that burn the fuel more efficiently and so use less wood.
And President Felix Tshisekedi is trying to boost electricity across the country to reduce demand for wood-based fuel.
He has championed hydroelectric power — and ground was broken in early October on a new dam in Goma.
NGOs and locals are not convinced of the viability of the project, but Tshisekedi is adamant: “Given the current rate of population growth and our energy needs, our forests may disappear by the year 2100,” he says.
Tropical storm to hit Somalia
Somalia has been hit by floods since October 2019.
A tropical storm is currently brewing over the western part of the Indian Ocean and is moving westward towards Somalia. It is expected to make landfall on 7 December 2019. A forecast issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Somali Water and Land Information Management (SWALIM) on Tuesday has warned of heavy rainfall and strong winds over the north and central parts of the Horn of Africa country.
Rain in excess of 100mm is expected in the coastal areas of Saanag, Bari, Nugaal and Mudug regions. FAO has advised those in line of Tropical Storm 06A to take necessary precautions against flash floods and heavy rainfall in the coming days.
Somalia has been hit by floods since October 2019. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 370,000 people have been displaced and even more are in dire need of relief and assistance.
“It is a race against time; but while we must work with authorities to meet today’s needs, it is urgent that we also focus on long-term, durable solutions. Given the increasing impact climate change is having on Somalia, the challenges are only likely to become more frequent and more severe,” said Justin Brady, Head of OCHA Somalia.
The Eastern and Central African regions have paid a heavy toll for global warming and are experiencing unusually heavy rainfall and floods: These, in turn, have caused flash floods, landslides, the destruction of properties and crops, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people and fatalities in the hundreds.
OCHA places the number of those impacted by the adverse weather conditions at 2.5 million. Kenya has recorded the highest number of fatalities at 250 as a result of the floods, with the heaviest hit counties being Wajir and West Pokot.
Djibouti, on the other hand, is grappling with adverse weather conditions and flooding after two years’ worth of rain fell in a single day. Loss of life, property and/or displacements have been registered further afield in Tanzania, Burundi, CAR, Uganda, Ethiopia, Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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