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Disappearing Glaciers on Mr. Kilimanjaro Raise Environmental Concerns


Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania has seen a dramatic decline in its glaciers over the past century. The disappearance of snow and ice on the peak and sides of Africa's largest mountain is often cited as an example of the impact of global climate change. Closer to the ground, residents of the Mount Kilimanjaro area also are concerned about the impact of climate change on their livelihoods. Cathy Majtenyi went to Mount Kilimanjaro and files this report for VOA.

Once covered with snow and ice, the peak of Africa's largest mountain is looking quite bare.

Mount Kilimanjaro's glaciers have shrunk by more than 80 percent over the past century and scientists are predicting that Kilimanjaro's ice cap could disappear by 2020.

Environmentalists often cite Mount Kilimanjaro as evidence of world-wide climate change.

Most scientists agree that decreased precipitation and increased solar radiation are the direct causes of Mt. Kilimanjaro's shrinking ice cap.

But there is not yet a consensus on the relative importance of increasing temperatures.

Christian Lambrechts is a policy and program officer with the United Nations Environment Program's Division of Early Warning and Assessment.

"It seems to appear that increased temperatures might have contributed but it is well away from being sure that it is a leading cause," Lambrechts said. "In fact, that is still being debated. When we speak about global warming, when we speak about climate change being induced by global warming, it does not mean that the consequences at the local level are only in terms of increased temperatures."

But rising temperatures are affecting ecosystems and communities further down the slope of the mountain as the area becomes drier.

Victoria Nderumaki is coordinator of a community development project under the United Nations Development Program. Nderumaki compares weather conditions just a year ago.

"It used to be much colder in Kilimanjaro compared to nowadays," she says. "I remember last year that Kilimanjaro was the leading region in hot days in the country. We are also experiencing situations which were not there. In Kilimanjaro, to see dust everywhere, it was not that way, but the soil is becoming dry and loose."

Environmentalists say the area's decreased water supply is due in part to the clear-cutting of the mountain's forests and massive forest fires caused by higher temperatures and reduced rainfall. Forests act as a reservoir, trapping and releasing moisture and attracting rainclouds.

A large population growth in the area means that more people are drawing on the existing water supply. Those who live downstream in particular have to travel further and further to get water.

Making the situation worse are erratic weather patterns. Augustine Joseph Temu owns a three-acre farm near the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. He says the seasons are drier now.

"We used to depend fully on two rainy seasons. The long rains are from March until June," said Temu. "But nowadays these rains are coming late and are very little. The short rains from September to November do not come anymore. As you can see, we have not received these rains."

Temu irrigates his crops during dry periods. He says that ever since the weather changed he has had to buy more pesticides and fertilizers, and he finds it difficult to recover his costs.

Many people who live and work around Mount Kilimanjaro face similar problems as they struggling to cope with the changing climate and changes to their mountain.

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