UN Publishes Satellite Atlas of Africa's Changing Environment

Eye of Mauritania
Image: Eye of Mauritania, UNEP

From the first pictures of Earth seen from space, to the interactive Google Earth, it would be a bit of an understatement to say that satellite imagery has changed the way we view our planetary home and on how we've impacted it. With satellite images as a powerful witness, the United Nations Environment Programme has now published the first major atlas to comprehensively tell the visual story of environmental change in Africa.

The UNEP's Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment highlights the environmental transformations, challenges and successes of Africa, with brief spotlights on each country. (If you ever wanted to learn more about African climate change, from Algeria to Zimbabwe, here's your chance now.) Before-and-after surveys of well-known natural landmarks such as Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro and Lake Victoria effectively show the accelerated changes that human activities and changing climates have had on the landscape. The trans-boundary movement of people, water resources, aerosols, pollutants and CO fumes from wild and human-made fires are clearly charted on a both a continental and global scale.

Africa Atlas Maps Current Challenges, Future Directions
Achim Steiner, executive director of the UNEP, says that the atlas "shows the vulnerability of people in the region to forces often outside their control, including the shrinking of glaciers and impacts on water supplies linked with climate change."

Despite the overwhelming difficulties, there have been some positive changes. "There are many places across Africa where people have taken action," adds Steiner. "These are beacons we need to follow to ensure the survival of Africa's peoples and their economically important nature-based assets."

The atlas reports that refugee migrations caused by social and political conflicts are now putting considerable pressure on the environment. But it is land degradation that now poses the greatest environmental threat, affecting no less than 32 African nations, along with the loss of biodiversity occurring in 34 countries.

From the Atlas' foreword:

"I reflect on my childhood experience when I would visit a stream next to our home to fetch water for my mother. I would drink water straight from the stream. Playing among the arrowroot leaves I tried in vain to pick up the strands of frogs' eggs, believing they were beads. But every time I put my little fingers under them they would break. Later, I saw thousands of tadpoles: black, energetic and wriggling through the clear water against the background of the brown earth. This is the world I inherited from my parents.

Today, over 50 years later, the stream has dried up, women walk long distances for water, which is not always clean, and children will never know what they have lost. The challenge is to restore the home of the tadpoles and give back to our children a world of beauty and wonder."

-- Wangari Maathai, in an excerpt from her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, December 2004)

::UNEP via Gristmill

Related Links on Climate Change in Africa

UNEP's Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment (PDF in English and in French)
The Economist: Africa's Global Warming Challenge
Tanzania: First African Member of U.N. Global Bioenergy Partnership
African Project To Revive Depleted Soils
Agriculture for Development: World Development Report Gets It Half Right
A Picture is Worth... UNEP's Atlas of Our Changing Environment (update)

Related Content on Treehugger.com