Satellite images show environmental damage in Africa

A new United Nations atlas of satellite images of Africa reveals deforestation at double the global rate, rapidly melting glaciers and other devastating impacts of increased urbanisation and climate change.

Africa is losing more than four million hectares of forest each year – a source of concern in 35 countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Nigeria and Rwanda. While the vanishing snows of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro and waters of Lake Chad are well-known, the images showed that the glaciers of the Rwenzori Mountains – on the DRC-Uganda border — have shrunk by half.

Climate change was “the driving force behind many of these problems,” said Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, where the 400-page atlas was presented on Tuesday.

Prepared for the environment ministers’ meeting in Johannesburg, the UNEP atlas showed positive signs in some areas. Steiner noted, however, that the atlas “clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of people in the region to forces beyond their control”. The findings, he said, “underline the urgent need” for a new climate agreement at the UN’s 2009 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

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