As a climate scientist with a specialty in climate change and variability in Africa, I have had a number of opportunities to visit various regions of Africa. The continent is huge – almost four times the size of the contiguous U.S. – with 54 nations populated by people with distinct cultures and customs.
Despite an abundance of natural resources, many countries in Africa struggle to develop and provide their citizens with education, adequate food and clean water — in large part due to the legacy of colonialism and the disruptions of the slave trade. Their future development is further hampered by climate change that is raising temperatures, changing patterns of precipitation and increasing the intensity of rainfall.
Last month, I attended a conference at Kisumu, Kenya, a city of 250,000 people located on the shore of Lake Victoria. Because the conference was concerned with enhancing resilience to climate change, we visited an informal community on the outskirts of Kisumu to understand better the current vulnerabilities in their water and sanitation systems. There we met well-educated, knowledgeable and articulate residents and community leaders and discussed the potential impacts of climate change with them.
They told us about the current threat to their water supply due to an overgrowth of vegetation in the nearby river caused by the high fertilizer content of downhill runoff from adjacent farms. Trees on the slope have been cut for fuel – in part, to boil water for drinking – which is making the problem worse. They are trying to replant trees on the slope to arrest the runoff and to contribute to drawing down atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.