Sunday, September 20, 2009

East African drought: there is a solution

Image from the Environment Society of Australia with thanks

East Africa is in trouble. Somalia, Djibouti, southern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, and northeastern Uganda all affected. The World Food Program says that 23 million people are in need of emergency food relief. Food prices are rising. There has been a steady decline in rainfall over the last 20 years, rainfall patterns are less predictable.

It looks as if the climate in the horn of Africa is changing, consistent with man made global warming models.

Scarce water, scarce resources, means trouble. Population displacement, refugees, tribal conflicts. It is adding to the misery in Somalia, weakened by 18 years of internal war.

Heavy rain is expected next month, due to El Nino, but this may bring its own problems.

What to do?

First and foremost, we must hope that the politicians gathering in Copenhagen this December come up with a serious plan to de-carbonise the world economy. We can all help through Avaaz.

Even a serious, rational plan to decarbonise will not help with the East Africa situation in the short term though.

The region needs a big change in the water cycle, in a short time scale.

This is not impossible. It could be done by a massive reforestation effort, beginning at the coast, and working inland.

The key fact to know is that according to Nobel Peace Prize winner and Kenyan Green Belt Movement founder Wangari Maathai, a patch of growing rain forest 15 square kilometers in area will create its own raincloud.

It is well known that forests act as a sponge, holding water, and lifting it into the air through evaporo-transpiration. Usually, this fact is deployed to make the case against deforestation.
It is equally effective as an argument for reafforestation.

The afforestation must begin at the coast because the onshore winds are moisture laden, and can help the new forest to flourish. Solar desalination stills set up by the coast can generate the fresh water that tree nurseries need.

These projects will need major international backing, with serious
money (but not prohibitive, by military standards). The planting must be carried out by and with the willing and informed consent the local communities, providing work, shelter, and benefits to those communities. And before anyone starts screaming about non-native monocultures, the species planted will be indigenous to the area, and planted with ecological sensitivity. Permaculture principles should be used.

The creative, cooperative activity required in local communities will displace energies from war making and conflict in Somalia, if rightly implemented, with good leadership from people committed to peace and democracy in Somalia.

More detail on coastal reafforestation here.

Yes, it is a big project. Yes, it is a new idea. But the journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step.

For East Africa, this is that step.

See also:
Water Project in Israel/Palestine
Leonard Ornstein has similar concept.


Dorothea said...

It would help if people could actually stop chopping down the forests that they already have, like the Mau Mau Forest, the largest water catchment in the area, but already reduced by 25% in only the last 20 years - due largely to government corruption apparently.

DocRichard said...

Yes, I agree, there is no point in planting new forests without stopping the destruction of established ones. But this is where a properly designed and monitored REDD comes in.

The key thing is that we all realise that it is possible to walk and to chew gum at the same time. We can BOTH plant new forests AND conserve old ones. They are not mutually exclusive enterprises. Indeed, since there is a 40 year time lag for present levels of CO2 to affect the climate, we have to do both, since we need to achieve reductions of present levels of CO2, not just stop them rising.