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After the Amazon fires, NASA images throw light on African forest fires

Just like the Amazon, the forests of the Congo Basin absorb tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in trees and peat marshes

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After the Amazon fires, NASA images throw light on African forest fires

In NASA satellite images, forest fires in central Africa appear to burn alarmingly like a red chain from Gabon to Angola similar to the blazes in Brazil’s Amazon that sparked global outcry.

At the G7 summit this week, French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted about the central Africa fires and said nations were examining a similar initiative to the one proposed to combat Brazil’s blazes.

G7 nations have pledged $20 million on the Amazon, mainly on fire-fighting aircraft.

Macron’s concern may be legitimate, but experts say central Africa’s rainforest fires are often more seasonal and linked to traditional seasonal farming methods.

No doubt the region is key for the climate: The Congo Basin forest is commonly referred to as the “second green lung” of the planet after the Amazon. 

The forests cover an area of 3.3 million square kilometres in several countries, including about a third in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the rest in Gabon, Congo, Cameroon and the Central African Republic.

Just like the Amazon, the forests of the Congo Basin absorb tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) in trees and peat marshes – seen by experts as a key way to combat climate change. They are also sanctuaries for endangered species. 

But most of the fires shown on the NASA maps of Africa are outside sensitive rainforest areas, analysts say, and drawing comparisons to the Amazon is also complex.

“The question now is to what extent we can compare,” said Philippe Verbelen, a Greenpeace forest campaigner working on the Congo Basin.

“Fire is quite a regular thing in Africa. It’s part of a cycle, people in the dry season set fire to bush rather than to dense, moist rainforest.”

Guillaume Lescuyer, a central African expert at the French agricultural research and development centre CIRAD, also said the fires seen in NASA images were mostly burning outside the rain forest.

After the Amazon fires, NASA images throw light on African forest fires

Angola’s government also urged caution, saying swift comparisons to the Amazon may lead to “misinformation of more reckless minds”.

The fires were usual at the end of the dry season, the Angolan ministry of environment said.

“It happens at this time of the year, in many parts of our country, and fires are caused by farmers with the land in its preparation phase, because of the proximity of the rainy season,” it said.

Different risks –

Though less publicised than the Amazon, the Congo Basin forests still face dangers.

“The forest burns in Africa but not for the same causes,” said Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, an ambassador and climate negotiator for the DR Congo.

“In the Amazon, the forest burns mainly because of drought and climate change, but in central Africa, it is mainly due to agricultural techniques.”

Many farmers use slash-and-burn farming to clear forest. In DR Congo, only nine per cent of the population has access to electricity and many people use wood for cooking and energy.

DR Congo President, Felix Tshisekedi has warned the rainforests are threatened if the country does not improve its hydro-electric capacity. 

Deforestation is also a risk in Gabon and parts of the DR Congo, as well as damage from mining and oil projects.

After the Amazon fires, NASA images throw light on African forest fires

Some countries are now implementing stricter environmental policies. Gabon, for example, has declared 13 national parks that makeup 11 per cent of its national territory.

DR Congo has declared a moratorium on new industrial logging licences but that has not stopped artisanal cutting, which industrial loggers can exploit.

“We need to protect the forests that are still largely intact and stop degradation,” said Greenpeace’s Verbelen.

“The forests that are still intact remain an important buffer for future climate change.”

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Republic of Congo receives funds to protect rainforest

The Republic of Congo is taking a major step towards protecting its valuable rainforest.

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Republic of Congo to save Rainforest

The Republic of Congo is taking a major step towards protecting its valuable rainforest.

The country’s President, Denis Sassou N’Guesso formally signed up for the Central African Forest Initiative and put the country in a position to receive up to $97 million to protect the rainforest better and fight climate change.

The programme’s financing is provided by a coalition of donors: the European Union, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, South Korea and the United Kingdom.

During the G-7 summit in August, French President Emmanuel Macron pledged to help sub-Saharan African countries fight fires raging in the area.

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Flash flood kills 2, 5 still missing in Kenya

Two survivors from the group alerted park rangers, who sent out a search party.

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Hell's gate national park: flash flood kills 2

Two people have died and five others are missing, or feared dead, after a flash flood Sunday at Kenya’s Hell’s Gate national park, the Kenyan Wildlife Service said. “Seven tourists swept away by the flash floods,” the KWS posted on its Twitter account. “Two bodies recovered while five bodies missing.”

A KWS official earlier told reporters that search and rescue work had been suspended for the night. The missing five were part of a 12-strong group visiting Hell’s Gate – where the 2003 film “Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life” was shot – when they were swept away.

Two survivors from the group alerted park rangers, who sent out a search party. There was no sign of the others, Rift Valley police chief Marcus Ochola told journalists. Another police officer said on condition of anonymity they were missing, “presumed dead”, based on witness accounts of two survivors.

The KWS tweeted that a helicopter was due to arrive from Nairobi to help with the search and rescue operation. The gorge had been closed to the public given the continuing rains. The seven people swept away included “five Kenyan tourists, a local guide and a non-resident”, the KWS added.

Hell’s Gate, named by 19th-century explorers, is around 100 kilometres northwest of the Kenyan capital Nairobi and just south of Lake Naivasha. Its spectacular scenery inspired the Disney animation “The Lion King”. The park, established in 1984, is also home to three geothermal stations.

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Bishop warns of ecological disaster from illegal logging in DR Congo

The illegal loggers often pick up timber that has been abandoned in the forest, but also fell the slow-growing trees in some areas

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Bishop warns that ecological disaster is in the offing due to illegal logging

A Congolese bishop says an “ecological disaster” is unfolding in the southeast of the Democratic Republic of Congo as illegal logging destined for Chinese buyers is threatening the rare Mukula tree. 

“While the whole world decries the ravages of the Amazon fires, an ecological disaster is underway near us” in the Haut Katanga region bordering Zambia, Monsignor Fulgence Muteba said in a statement on Thursday.

Muteba, the Catholic bishop of Haut Katanga’s Kilwa-Kasenga province, said: “intensive, lawless activities” are threatening the already endangered hardwood, which is used for construction as well as furniture.

Known by botanists under its Latin name of Pterocarpus Chrysothrix, the Mukula, a tree famed for the red tinge of its wood, is threatened with extinction in Zambia, environmentalists say. “Those who exploit this precious natural resource… returned to the area a few weeks ago,” Muteba said, charging that “Chinese subjects and people close to the government” were behind the logging.

The illegal loggers often pick up timber that has been abandoned in the forest, but also fell the slow-growing trees in some areas, Muteba said. The bishop also warned that the “looting… does not in any way take into account the degradation of biodiversity” that it causes.

He said he feared the activity would spread into the Kundelungu National Park, a protected area in Haut Katanga province. Muteba has been pointing the finger at illegal logging by Chinese operators in the province since 2016.

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