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East Africa’s tourism icons threatened

By Vision Reporter

Added 10th January 2007 03:00 AM

The vulnerability of East Africa’s tourism industry to climate change has become more apparent with two striking cases; the vanishing ice of Mount Kilimanjaro and the vanishing flamingos of Lake Nakuru.

The vulnerability of East Africa’s tourism industry to climate change has become more apparent with two striking cases; the vanishing ice of Mount Kilimanjaro and the vanishing flamingos of Lake Nakuru.

By Vision Reporter

The vulnerability of East Africa’s tourism industry to climate change has become more apparent with two striking cases; the vanishing ice of Mount Kilimanjaro and the vanishing flamingos of Lake Nakuru.

Tens of thousands of flamingos have died in Kenya in recent years. Experts are in disagreement over the exact cause of the deaths. One glaring clue is the dramatic extent to which the shores of Lake Nakuru recede during dry spells.

Usually, the lake recedes during the dry season and floods during the wet season. In recent years, there have been wide variations between the dry and wet seasons’ water levels.

It is suspected that this is caused by increasing watershed land conversion to intensive crop production and urbanisation. Both reduce the capacity of soils to absorb water, recharge groundwater and thus increase seasonal flooding.

Pollution and drought are thought to be destroying the flamingos’ food or algae and causing them to migrate to nearby lakes, more recently lakes Naivasha, Simbi Nyaima and Bogoria.

Climate changes are also thought to contribute to the changing environmental conditions in the lake’s water catchment area.
Meanwhile, events at the top of mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania have been drawing global attention recently.

‘Kilima Njaro’ means shining mountain in Kiswahili. This name comes from the way its icy peak glitters in the sunlight – or used to: Experts say the glaciers that have covered the top of Africa’s highest mountain for the past 11,700 years are rapidly disappearing.

In March 2005, it was reported that the peak was now almost bare for the first time in 11,000 years.

Though the cause of the reduction in ice volume is in dispute, the loss of the Kilimanjaro ice fields will carry significant implications. Local populations depend on water from the ice fields when water from other sources is scarce. It also means that soon, the iconic mountain may lose the very source of its name.

The shocking change in the mountain’s appearance has been blamed by some on climate change. The same phenomenon is credited for the disappearance of ice from Uganda’s Rwenzori mountains.

East Africa experienced a terrible drought in early 2006. Hundreds of people and tens of thousands of livestock died of hunger and thirst. Drought also took its toll on wildlife.

Shrinking rivers robbed hippos of their habitat. Human-animal conflict became inevitable when wild animals ventured into areas inhabited by man in search for water. At Masaai Mara National Reserve in southwest Kenya, herds of elephants invaded areas inhabited by humans, resulting in human deaths.

Herdsmen also took their animals into game parks in search of pasture.

East Africa may have to be prepared for more in 2007. The year is likely to be the warmest around the world, climate change experts at Britain’s Met Office said recently.

The global temperature is predicted to be 0.54 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1990 average of 14, the meteorological organisation said recently. It added that there was a 60% probability that 2007 would be as warm or even warmer than the current warmest year on record — 1998.

The potential for a record is linked to the presence of a moderate el-nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean, which is “expected to persist through the first few months of 2007,” the Met Office said.

The effect of these temperature increases are not easy to predict, but a change in climatic patterns can be expected. Whether this is for better or worse, remains to be seen.

East Africa’s tourism icons threatened

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