African Mountain Research Times - August 2018

Afromont Aug 1AfroMont is a communication and networking organisation interested in researching the science-policy and science-diplomacy issues relating to African mountains and sustainable mountain development and communicating findings.  Afromont also aims to highlight experiences from research, field projects and best practice in sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation in African countries.

Photo: Mountain scene near Monk’s Cowl, Drakensberg, South Africa. SJ Taylor.



Editorial – Wildfires in Greece, and everywhere

We give our thoughts to the people who died in the July wildfires in Greece. While this could be a climate change manifestation (vegetation super-dry), copy-cat arson is also suspected in some cases. It was fortunate that some could escape into the sea and were rescued by patrol boats, and unfortunate that others were trapped behind walls designating ‘private beach’ areas.

Wild fires have always been a threat, but are now occurring all around the world:  Spain and Portugal in 2016, Los Angeles/California in 2017, South Africa 2016 and now Greece (2007 and 2018).  While one could say that urban areas have encroached too far into areas of natural vegetation, yet an increase in wildfires is indeed one of those ‘climate change impacts’ that no-one really thought about.  From being a taboo subject in around 2007, ‘adaptation’ has become more urgent and has gone beyond the ‘low hanging fruit’ stage to dealing floods, hurricanes, super-monsoons, super-dry hot winds, heat and fires. This is the new reality, unfortunately. Disaster risk research and disaster risk management are growing fields of endeavour in the ‘adaptation’ arena. Mountainous areas in Africa are also at risk from heat and fires.

Fire hotspots and predictive images

For a decade now, ESA satellites have been continuously surveying fires burning across the Earth’s surface as an aid to disaster management (see world map of hotspots below). Over time, these images will also have a predictive element: we will know which areas are prone to wildfires. Worldwide fire maps based on this data are now available to users online in near-real time through ESA's ATSR World Fire Atlas. The ATSR World Fire Atlas (WFA) – the first multi-year global fire atlas ever developed – provides data approximately six hours after acquisition and represents an important scientific resource because fire is a major agent of environmental change. Using satellites, global fire hot spots have been mapped. (Below: the ESA global detection of hot spots by ERS-2's Along Track Scanning Radiometer (ATSR-2) and Envisat's Advanced Along Track Scanning Radiometer (AATSR) in 2005 (ESA website).

[Editor’s note: it is of concern to see that the tropical equatorial forests of South America and Africa are such major fire hotspots! See ESA map of major fire hotspots below].

 Fire Hotspots Afromont August


Real time disaster management

Satellites routinely monitoring Earth from space and delivering data to support rapid damage mapping offer an objective tool to aid real-time disaster management. In August 2005, satellites tracked the plumes of smoke from serious wildfires across Portugal fan into the Atlantic in this Envisat satellite view acquired on 21 August.  During this time, dozens of wildfires were reported throughout Portugal, which has suffered one of its worst droughts for decades. The smoke from the fires can easily be seen by satellite cameras. Firefighters succeeded in creating a firebreak to stop its spread, backed up by water-bombing aircraft (ESA website).  All of this was helped by having real time satellite information. For the Jul7y 2018 Greek fire tragedy, the European Union also activated its Civil Protection Mechanism after Greece sought help.

A growing disaster:  very hot low cost housing and the risks of heatwaves and heat stroke in Africa

In terms of disaster risk assessments for urban areas, excessive heat and the risks of heat stroke need to be identified and remedial action planned for.  In South Africa, research is being now being carried out to understand how much of a threat ‘hot conditions’ are, and who is at risk.  I also had a discussion with one of my colleagues here at the University  – she said that, unfortunately, most South African clinics around the country (who provide for basic health care) would not recognise dehydration, hyperthermia, heatstroke or heat exhaustion in patients, or know how to treat it.   In the 2016 heat waves in South Africa, there were very useful press articles and radio announcements giving advice and warnings.  There will probably be a need for more visible  public warnings (at train and bus stations, clinics, schools) about oncoming heatwaves and how to prevent heatstroke and heat exhaustion (stay indoors, drink lots of water), and how to treat persons who have been overcome with these conditions. This risk will be similar in other African countries  as climate change becomes a reality.

Heatwave Alert Afromont August
Heat wave and fire alert carried in the South African press (2016).

The other impact of climate change is fire.

The other impact of climate change is fire. Often the causal factor is a small accident, a barbeque too close to a wooded area – but the accelerator for a major disaster is high-speed winds. As the earth’s surface and air warms up, vegetation dries out and the warming air becomes wind. It just takes a spark.  These fires are taking vast resources to bring under control – the hurricane force Santa Anna winds created a fire that required more than 3000 firefighters to contain it until it burned out by itself.  Fire risks need to be understood, and global ‘hot spots’ identified.

Wildfires have also caused widespread damage in northern Europe in recent days.  This is very alarming, as one assumes that the far north is ‘too wet and misty’ to burn. Sweden, experiencing an unprecedented drought and the highest temperatures in a century, has counted more than 20 fires across the country.  Fires have also hit Finland’s northernmost Lapland province.  Norway, which experienced its hottest May temperatures on record, has seen several small fires. Fires have also raged for five days in Latvia (Daily Maverick article, see URL below).

European Space Agency (ESA) and fire monitoring around the world

The increased frequency and intensity of disasters such as storms and floods, coupled with the exposure of vulnerable populations and assets, have put disasters high on the list of modern-day challenges. Because of the growing prevalence of disasters, including fires, emergency, rescue and relief organizations need to be provided with reliable and accurate information to save lives and limit damage to property, infrastructure and the environment (ESA website).

Information sources

Important ‘classic’ FAO report:  Still valid!

FAO. 2015. Mapping the vulnerability of mountain peoples to food insecurity. Romeo, R., Vita, A., Testolin, R. & Hofer, T. Rome.

The FAO notes that in 2012, 39 % of the mountain population in developing countries was considered vulnerable to food insecurity, which is an increase of 30 % compared to the conditions of mountain peoples in the year 2000. The situation is even worse if only rural mountain peoples are considered. The living conditions of mountain peoples have deteriorated and their vulnerability to hunger has increased. Harsh climates and the difficult, often inaccessible terrain, combined with political and social marginality certainly contribute to making mountain peoples particularly vulnerable to food shortages. In mountain areas, where family farming and smallholder agriculture, forestry and animal husbandry are the prevailing farming systems, it is essential to create a supportive, enabling environment in which mountain peoples have access to training, information, credit and healthcare, and benefit from reliable governance systems and infrastructure. The data revealed in the above study gives voice to the plight of mountain peoples. This study provides a clear message to policy-makers on the importance of including sustainable mountain development in their agendas (FAO Secretariat, 2012).

Afromont village Drakensberg
Rural village in the Drakensberg Mountains and the Tugela River catchment, South Africa. Note advanced soil degradation resulting from livestock overstocking. These are very food insecure regions, with livelihoods augmented by salaried work in local towns and cities.

Editor’s choice of new journal publications

Terence Epule Epule, James D. Ford, Shuaib Lwasa, Laurent Lepage (2018). Climate change adaptation in the Sahel.  Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 75, September 2017, Pages 121-137.

Simon Scheiter, Patrice Savadogo (2018). Ecosystem management can mitigate vegetation shifts induced by climate change in West Africa.  Ecological Modelling, Volume 332, 24 July 2016, Pages 19-27.

Kaitano Dube, Godwell Nhamo (2018). Climate variability, change and potential impacts on tourism: Evidence from the Zambian side of the Victoria Falls. Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 84, June 2018, Pages 113-123.

Jeremiah Wezanamo Acharibasam, Samuel Weniga Anuga (2018). Psychological distance of climate change and mental health risks assessment of smallholder farmers in Northern Ghana: Is habituation a threat to climate change?  Climate Risk Management, In press, corrected proof, Available online 6 May 2018.

Katharine Vincent, Willem Colenbrander (2018). Developing and applying a five step process for mainstreaming climate change into local development plans: A case study from Zambia.  Climate Risk Management, In press, corrected proof, Available online 1 May 2018.

Agoston R (2018). The effects of global climate change on fire service: Human resource view. Procedia Engineering, Volume 211, 2018, Pages 1-7.

Lee C., Schlemme C., Murray J., Unsworth R (2018). The cost of climate change: Ecosystem services and wildland fires.  Ecological Economics, Volume 116, August 2015, Pages 261-269.

Francisca C. Aguiar, Julia Bentz, João M. N. Silva, Ana L. Fonseca, Gil Penha-Lopes (2018). Adaptation to climate change at local level in Europe: An overview.  Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 86, August 2018, Pages 38-63.

Parente, M. G. Pereira, M. Amraoui, E. M. Fischer (2018). Heat waves in Portugal: Current regime, changes in future climate and impacts on extreme wildfires.  Science of The Total Environment, Volumes 631–632, 1 August 2018, Pages 534-549.

Joel Hartter, Lawrence C. Hamilton, Angela E. Boag, Forrest R. Stevens, Michael W. Palace (2018). Does it matter if people think climate change is human caused?  Climate Services, Volume 10, April 2018, Pages 53-62.

Joaquín Bedia, Sixto Herrera, Jose Manuel Gutiérrez, Akli Benali, Jose Manuel Moreno (2018). Global patterns in the sensitivity of burned area to fire-weather: Implications for climate change.  Agricultural and Forest Meteorology, Volumes 214–215, 15 December 2015, Pages 369-379.

Erin K. Espeland, Karin M. Kettenring (2018). Strategic plant choices can alleviate climate change impacts: A review.  Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 222, 15 September 2018, Pages 316-324.

Vicente Rozas, Carlos Le Quesne, Moisés Rojas-Badilla, Mauro E. González, Álvaro González-Reyes (2018). Coupled human-climate signals on the fire history of upper Cachapoal Valley, Mediterranean Andes of Chile, since 1201 CE. Global and Planetary Change, Volume 167, August 2018, Pages 137-147.

Becky K. Kerns, David C. Powell, Sabine Mellmann-Brown, Gunnar Carnwath, John B. Kim (2018). Effects of projected climate change on vegetation in the Blue Mountains ecoregion, USA. Climate Services, Volume 10, April 2018, Pages 33-43.

Cuthbert Casey Makondo, David S. G. Thomas (2018). Climate change adaptation: Linking indigenous knowledge with western science for effective adaptation. Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 88, October 2018, Pages 83-91.

Rachael H. Nolan, David M. Drew, Anthony P. O'Grady, Elizabeth A. Pinkard, Daniel Ramp (2018). Safeguarding reforestation efforts against changes in climate and disturbance regimes.  Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 424, 15 September 2018, Pages 458-467.

Clara Ines Pardo Martínez, William H. Alfonso Piña, Sylvia Fletscher Moreno (2018). Prevention, mitigation and adaptation to climate change from perspectives of urban population in an emerging economy.  Journal of Cleaner Production, Volume 178, 20 March 2018, Pages 314-324.

Casey B. Peters, Mark W. Schwartz, Mark N. Lubell (2018). Identifying climate risk perceptions, information needs, and barriers to information exchange among public land managers. Science of the Total Environment, Volumes 616–617, March 2018, Pages 245-254

Sotiris Vardoulakis, Chrysanthi Dimitroulopoulou, John Thornes, Ka-Man Lai, Paul Wilkinson (2018). Impact of climate change on the domestic indoor environment and associated health risks in the UK. Environment International, Volume 85, December 2015, Pages 299-313

Kristie L. Ebi, Howard Frumkin, Jeremy J. Hess (2018). Protecting and promoting population health in the context of climate and other global environmental changes. Anthropocene, Volume 19, September 2017, Pages 1-12