NAIROBI, Kenya – Africa's two highest mountains — Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya — will lose their ice cover within 25 to 50 years if deforestation and industrial pollution are not stopped, environmentalists warned Thursday.
Kilimanjaro has already lost 82 percent of its ice cover over 80 years, said Fredrick Njau of the Kenyan Green Belt Movement.
Mount Kenya, one of the few places near the equator with permanent glaciers, has lost 92 percent over the past 100 years.
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"This is a major issue because declining ice caps mean the water tap is effectively going to be turned off, and that is a major concern," said Nick Nuttall from the U.N.'s Environment Program.
All the evidence shows climate change is underway and Africa is the must vulnerable continent to this, he said, adding that foreign aid must address the threat of climate change.
Industrial nations also need to step up support to help poor nations adapt to global warming with drought and heat resistant crops and alternative energy sources so people do not cut down trees for fuel, Nuttall said.
African forests, he added, are soaking up pollution from industrialized nations for free and should reap some kind of reward or benefit for that.
At 19,335 feet, Kilimanjaro is Africa's highest mountain and Mount Kenya is the second-highest. Both are major attractions for mountaineers, hikers and other tourists.
"The two mountains will lose their ice mass in the coming 25 to 50 years if deforestation and industrial pollution are not brought to an end," said Njau, who heads the organization's Mount Kenya Bio-Carbon Project.
The warning came weeks before a major climate summit in Nairobi.
Green Belt Movement, in collaboration with the French Agency for Development, plans to launch a $2 million project to plant 2 million trees in the coming 30 years over an area of 4,942 acres within the areas of Mount Kenya and the Kenyan range of mountains called the Aberdares.
Both are important water catchment areas in Kenya, with many rivers originating from them and these rivers are major sources of water and power generated by dams.
"Deforestation that has a direct link to climactic change has affected negatively on the glaciers on top of Mount Kenya," said Njau. "Millions who depend on the seven rivers that depend on Mount Kenya will be affected because some of the rivers are seasonal and may dry up."
"For more than 20 years, squatters cleared trees surrounding Mount Kenya (to make way) for farming," he said.
"We are trying to offset carbon in the atmosphere and the World Bank told us that they will buy our carbon," through its carbon credits program, Njau said.
Through the Mount Kenya and Aberdares tree-planting project, the Green Belt Movement expects the trees will absorb about 800,000 tons of carbon dioxide before 2017, Njau said.
The World Bank will buy the carbon under the Bio-Carbon Fund that brings together private companies and governments.
Trade in carbon credits has been spurred by the requirements of the Kyoto protocol of the U.N. Framework Treaty on Climate Change.
Under the carbon credits program, industrial countries obliged by treaty to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions can get credit for reductions in the poor countries.