Magazine article New Internationalist

The Son of the Snow Is Angry

Magazine article New Internationalist

The Son of the Snow Is Angry

Article excerpt

AFRICA, according to current predictions, will be the continent most affected by climate change - a sad irony considering its nominal contribution to global greenhouse-gas emissions. For the BaKonzo - a people living within the Rwenzori Mountains that straddle the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo - climate change has profound cultural as well as practical consequences.

The Rwenzori Mountains rise four kilometres above the surrounding East African plain. Through a combination of cold air and abundant precipitation, they have historically been home to extensive snowfields whose meltwaters supply a network of alpine rivers, lakes and wetlands that are a source of the River Nile.

For centuries glaciers on the Rwenzori's summits protected the BaKonzo from being enslaved by neighbouring tribes and from tropical diseases like malaria. This unique cold and wet environment on the equator - a World Heritage Site - features spectacular flora such as giant heather and is a rich source of traditional medicines. Alpine riverflows sustain both agricultural production downstream and the generation of hydroelectric power.

But over the last century the area covered by glaciers has reduced by 84 per cent. If current trends persist, the glaciers will disappear within the next two decades.

The BaKonzo also report declining crop yields and episodic famine as a result of reductions in rainfall, which include previously unknown periods of drought. Malaria has migrated into the highlands, suggesting a rise in air temperature that has enabled colonization by mosquitoes transmitting the disease. …

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