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Congo Basin 

By Ntaryike Divine Jr — Scientific evidences over the years have steadily confirmed vast amounts of worthy endowments lodged by nature in the Congo Basin.It not only hosts 70 percent of Africa’s forests and a unique biodiversity, but also supports the livelihoods of some 60 million people.

Increasingly, however, reports are pointing to accelerating deforestation imperiling the basin’s over 200 million hectares of forests straddling six Central African countries, including the DR Congo, the Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.
The Centre for International Forestry Research, CIFOR, says satellite-based monitoring data indicates the deforestation rates have nearly doubled in recent years, bouncing from 0.09 percent in 2000 to 0.17 in 2005.

The DR Congo, Congo and Cameroon currently top the charts. Research reports warn that though the deforestation pace in the world’s second-largest tropical forest tract has been historically slack compared to Latin America and Asia, the situation may soon witness a dramatic acceleration gearshift. 

Pinpointed among the deforestation accelerators are soaring global demands for natural resources, regional economic development strides, booming populations relying on the forests for sustenance, as well as interminable conflicts spawning massive human displacements. Environmentalists argue that beyond wrecking its biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation roles, these swelling pressures are significantly endangering the Congo Basin’s rainmaking function. 

CIFOR scientist, Denis Sonwa, notes that within an ecosystem like the Congo Basin, rainfall originates from three key sources.  These include available moisture in the atmosphere, moisture from outside the region and evapotranspiration, a process in which moisture is returned to the air by evaporation from the soil and transpiration by plants. 

Basing his arguments on previous research findings, Sonwa concludes that the basin is a rainfall generator, drawing moisture from the neighbouring Atlantic Ocean and recycling it via evapotranspiration. He adds that more water from underground sources across the basin eventually mix with atmospheric moisture, leading to the generation of rainfall on a sub-continental scale. “Thus without the extensive Congo Basin forests, the process will be significantly disrupted,” he warns. 

The alert is bolstered by the findings of various scientific probes into the climate dynamics of the Congo Basin, which all conclude that the ongoing deforestation will gradually culminate in modifications of rainfall behaviour, with resulting impacts to be felt both locally and as far off as the Sahel and over southern equatorial Africa.

Already, erratic rainfall patterns are frequently misleading farmers across the region. Many have sown seeds with the advent of the first rains, only to helplessly watch them rot underground as rainy season debuts witness unusually long delays.

A World Bank-funded three-year-long research requested by the Central Africa Forests Commission [COMIFAC] released in Kinshasa last May 14 urges Congo Basin countries to urgently seek ways of reconciling economic growth and forest protection, by opting for smart measures and policy choices that sustain their natural assets.

Observers say it is a crossroads situation for the region, as governments engage major infrastructure development ventures. In Cameroon for example, vast swathes of the basin forest are being chopped down for agribusiness, seaports and dam projects, a similar trend unfolding across the sub-region with promises of new jobs for its impoverished dwellers.

First published in The Post print edition no 01432

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