At the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, an elderly Maasai village chief squints up at the summit and says only God can explain the shrinking snowcap and worsening droughts.
ESITETI, Kenya At the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, an elderly Maasai village chief squints up at the summit and says only God can explain the shrinking snowcap and worsening droughts.
"The snows are getting smaller year by year," Kinyaol Porboli, the chief of Esiteti village, told Reuters at the base of Africa's highest peak at 5,895 metres (19,340 feet).
Many a travel brochure has shown the pastoralist Maasai, with their spears and bright red robes, standing before the towering peak which is a life-giver to their tribe and Kenya's crucial tourism economy. But now both may be threatened.
Cattle in the village died in droughts in 2005, 1997 and 1989, said Porboli, who does not know his exact age but reckons he may be 100. This year, some tiny green shoots are coming up through the dust around the village.
"Twenty years ago I had never seen droughts in which our cattle died ... in the old days droughts were short," he said, adding that now "droughts are increasing."
"It's linked to the mountain," he said, wrapped in a red robe and sitting on a stool in the shade of a toothbrush tree outside his village of 70 people who live in windowless huts made from branches and dried cow dung.
"Only God can change the climate," Porboli said when asked about the cause of the shrinking snow. "Only God can stop the rains and bring drought, or divide the seasons."
CLOSER TO HOME
The United Nations, hosting Nov. 6-17 climate talks in Nairobi 240 km (150 miles) north, reckons blame for the vanishing snows of Kilimanjaro lies closer to hand -- with global warming linked to human use of fossil fuels.
In Nairobi, a U.N. poster shows pictures comparing current snows, which appear only near the summit of Kilimanjaro, with a white cap far down the mountain almost 100 years ago.
"Mount Kilimanjaro's disappearing snows are believed to be linked to climate change," it says.
The 189-nation Nairobi talks are seeking ways to widen a fight against global warming that many scientists say could cause rising seas, more heatwaves, droughts and floods.
But some researchers say the shrinking snows may be linked to deforestation around the base of Kilimanjaro. Logging and land clearance to sow crops may have made the region drier -- cutting rains and snow.
"It's true that farmers are planting their crops higher up," said Rinkoine, 32, a Maasai warrior with a long knife on his belt, pointing to farmland on the slopes of the mountain over the border in nearby Tanzania.
He also said that a rising population of elephants was eating and knocking over more trees.
Whatever the causes, the Maasai fear for livelihoods based on herding goats and cattle. Some said springs on the plains near Kilimanjaro were drying up because of repeated droughts.
"Drought is a very big problem, affecting everything in our life. Poverty will increase," Porboli said.
"When the cows die from the drought we can only sell the skins at a low price," he said. "When there are rains we have enough to eat and everyone is happy."