From: Tim Cocks, Reuters
Published November 10, 2006 12:00 AM

Climate Change Melting Fabled African Glaciers

KAMPALA — Climate change is melting a legendary ice field in equatorial Africa and may soon thaw it out completely, threatening fresh water supplies to hundreds of thousands of people, a climate expert said on Thursday.

The fabled, snow-capped Rwenzori mountains -- dubbed the "Mountains of the Moon" in travel brochures -- form part of the Uganda/Democratic Republic of the Congo border and are one of Uganda's top tourist destinations.

But warmer temperatures are melting the glaciers sitting on their peaks, with some scientists predicting the ice could be gone within two to three decades.

"Definitely, the glaciers are decreasing," James Magezi-Akiiki, a climate change specialist at Uganda's environment ministry told Reuters.

"They have already decreased by 60 percent since 1910. If temperatures keep going up as they have, there's a high chance of them disappearing."

Scientists say tropical glaciers like the snowy peaks of Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa's highest mountain, are especially sensitive to climate change.

"The same thing is happening to Kilimanjaro...It's gone from white to brown," Magezi-Akiiki said.

A study in 2002 showed Kilimanjaro to have lost more than 80 percent of its ice cap in the past 100 years, reducing water supplies to people living around it.


Two U.N. reports coinciding with a conference on climate change in Kenya this week warned of disastrous consequences for Africa from global warming caused by CO2 emissions.

"Climate change threatens to intensify water insecurity on an unparalleled scale," the U.N. Human Development Report said.

Glaciers are often a crucial store of fresh water.

"The streams originating from the Rwenzori glaciers would disappear if they melt," said Magezi-Akiiki. "And during the dry season they are the only source of water."

He said measures needed to be taken to prepare people in western Uganda for future water shortages, including drilling bore holes to access water under the ground and building irrigation systems to conserve the region's rain.

The fabled status of the Rwenzoris stretches back to a remark by Greek geographer Ptolemy in the 2nd century AD, who described "Mountains of the Moon whose snows feed the lakes, sources of the Nile."

The passage is thought to refer to the Rwenzoris, whose glacial streams run into Lake Albert as it joins the Nile.

"If the glaciers go, it would definitely impact on tourism. With no snow, tourists wouldn't go," Magezi-Akiiki said. "And there would be no water for them."

Source: Reuters

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