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New UN atlas shows new changes in Africa's environmental landscape
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13:27, June 11, 2008

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A new atlas launched by the United Nations here in this South African country on Tuesday showed some major changes in Africa's environmental landscape.

The new publication, Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment, which was compiled by the UN Environment Program (UNEP), uses satellite images taken over the last 35 years and focuses on how development choices, population growth, climate change and conflicts are impacting the region's natural assets.

The atlas chronicles a series of major challenges for the continent, such as the loss of forest, reduction in biodiversity and land degradation, which are affecting the majority of those African nations.

According to the new publication, Africa is losing more than four million hectares of forest every year, some twice of the average world rate, and some areas are said to be losing over 50 metric tons of soil per hectare per year.

The atlas also shows that erosion and chemical and physical damages have degraded about 65 percent of the continent's farmlands, while over 300 million people on the continent already face water scarcity, and areas experiencing water shortages in Sub-Saharan Africa are expected to increase by almost a third by 2050.

It not only features well-known environmental changes such as the shrinking glaciers on Mount Kilimanjaro, the drying up of LakeChad and the falling water levels in Lake Victoria, but also brings the attention to some lesser known developments.

Among these are the disappearing glaciers in Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains, which had decreased by 50 percent between 1987 and 2003;the widening corridors of deforestation along expanding roads in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1975; and the disappearance of a large portion of Madagascar's South Malagasy spiny forest between 1973 and 2003 as a result of farming and wood gathering.

The new atlas, however, also presents some positive developments, such as actions against overgrazing in the Sidi TouiNational Park in southeastern Tunisia have produced a dramatic rebound in the natural ecosystem, a new management plan for the Itezhi-tezhi dam in Zambia has helped to restore the natural seasonal flooding of the Kafue Flats, and the expansion of wetlands boosted by a restoration project in and around Diawling National Park is helping to control flooding and improve livelihood in Mauritania.

"As shown throughout the atlas, there are many places across Africa where people have taken action, where there are more trees than 30 years ago, where wetlands have sprung back, and where land degradation has been countered," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said in a statement.


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