Magazine article The Christian Century

Climate Change and Religion around Africa's Great Lakes

Magazine article The Christian Century

Climate Change and Religion around Africa's Great Lakes

Article excerpt

Climate change will transform the world in many and various ways, and the consequences for people of faith will be far-reaching. One threatened area is the Great Lakes region of central and eastern Africa, home to Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika, and Nyasa, as well as to rapidly growing Muslim and Christian populations.

Some of the Great Lakes drain into the Congo River to the west and others into the Nile, which runs over 4,000 miles to the Mediterranean. Those water systems are essential for the continued flourishing of some of the world's most populous and most rapidly growing nations. By 2050, a billion Africans will be living in areas directly dependent on the Nile. Adding the larger Great Lakes region to the picture raises this water-dependent population by some hundreds of millions more.

The countries of the Nile and Great Lakes territories have resisted the worldwide trend toward lower fertility rates and smaller families. Between 1900 and 2050, the populations of most of these territories will have grown by a factor of twenty or thirty or more. Uganda, which in 1900 had perhaps 2 million people, is expected to have 90 million by 2050.

The Nile Valley and Great Lakes countries account for a large share of the worldwide growth in numbers of both Christianity and Islam over the past century. Christian numbers have surged spectacularly in countries like Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Muslim populations have swelled in Egypt and Sudan. To varying degrees, all countries in the region have mixed populations of Christians, Muslims, and (sometimes) animists, and most have experienced tensions between majority and minority communities. Christian Copts face persecution in Egypt, and sporadic interfaith violence and terrorism erupt in Kenya and Uganda. In 2011, the nation of Sudan split on religious lines, creating the new and predominantly Christian country of South Sudan.

The region includes some of the world's poorest nations, and poverty and conflicts over resources contribute mightily to religious and ethnic struggles. Environmental issues played a toxic role in the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s.

To say the least, the communities of the Nile and Great Lakes regions stand in a delicate balance with their environment, and population growth severely threatens the balance. Agriculture is critically dependent on water resources, booming cities need water to drink, and many millions of ordinary people find a livelihood in fishing. …

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