African Mountain Research Times - October 2018
Dolomites SueTAfroMont is a communication and networking organisation interested in research and policy relating to African mountains. 

Afromont aims to highlight experiences from research, field projects and innovation and best practice in sustainable mountain development and climate change adaptation in African countries.

Photo: Dolomites in South Tyrol. AfroMont attended a EURAC conference in nearby Bolzano, Italy.


Written by Dr. Sue Taylor, AfroMont Coordinator

Afromont October 1AfroMont recently attended a three day (17 – 19th October) international GLOMOS conference in Bolzano, Italy, hosted by Eurac. Dr Jörg Szarzynski and his colleague, Dr Stefan Schneiderbauer, coordinated the GLOMOS event. Dr Szarzynski is the scientific coordinator of the new GLOMOS (Global Mountain Safeguard Research) collaboration programme based at Eurac in Bolzano. The central focus of the new GLOMOS research programme will be on the enormous challenges facing mountainous regions in the coming decades, seen against the background of global population growth along with increasing scarcity of natural resources, and climate change.

Eurac Research is a private research centre based in Bozen-Bolzano, Italy, and is in partnership with the United Nations University. Eurac Research and United Nations University aim to improve the living conditions of people in mountainous regions.

The GLOMOS event
During the October 2018 GLOMOS event, there were many stimulating presentations, statements and discussions, and it was very useful to see how mountain research in Europe, South America and Asia deals with many similar challenges, yet with a variety of solutions.  There is a lot that African scientists can learn from meetings like this.

Afromont October 2.jpgI participated in the group discussing mountain governance. Organisational formations that enable mountain community groups to lobby different levels of government are one of the success stories in Asia, for example. I am not sure of the status of grassroots formations in African mountain areas that enable local communities to lobby at a high level. For biodiversity conservation, the Albertine Rift Conservation Association (ARCOS) fulfils this function in East Africa, along with the African Mountain Partnership (AMP) and international agencies like BirdLife.  I am not really sure what CBOs exist to lobby for mountain issues, giving me a sense that there does seem to be a very big gap between communities and national governments, even in South Africa (a middle income country). Many African governments do not want to be lobbied by civilian groups, it would seem.

Managing risks and emergencies in mountains
Disasters are becoming increasingly common and severe around the world, putting enormous numbers of people at risk.  Some areas have chronic or cyclical disasters like hurricanes and droughts and preparedness is crucial. Before and during disasters, information gathering, analysis, management and sharing at different levels is very important. Social media is obviously now a method of choice, but society needs to be educated on how to respond to early warnings or to messages during a disaster.  In some areas, there are slow onset disasters like mountain settlements, deforestation and soil erosion, ultimately leading to landslides, and these situations must be monitored, and if possible, prevented from reaching a situation of disaster.  

Afromont October 3Mountains are dangerous places and safety and disaster risk planning has become a priority to protect lives, livelihoods and infrastructure. In Africa we don’t have avalanches and people don’t get lost in the snow, but we do have high altitude mountain emergencies with tourists (a recent South African fatality in Mt Kilimanjaro, highlighted poor mountain rescue preparedness on the mountain). There are also many landslides.

In Africa, the 2017 Sierre Leone Freetown urban landslide could have been prevented by better risk assessments and landscape management. Warnings about building on the deforested mountain slopes surrounding the city had been ignored for many years, but it may be possible that people do not fully understand the risks of living in such an area or how to manage these risks. Possibly in Europe, hazard zone planning would have been carried out, and unstable slopes stabilised with soil-reinforcement mechanisms. Mountain storm water would have been controlled through water management systems with constructed trenches and drains. Alas, this is not what happens in many African countries as the technology and cash to pay for it is not available.

The tragedy was made more severe because of a poor emergency response. The army was called in to help, but they did not have the correct equipment to dig hundreds of people out of the mud. The local hospital was inundated with the dead and dying. In the end, 1141 people died and 3000 were left homeless. 

Mountain Emergency Medicine
The Institute of Mountain Emergency Medicine, based at Eurac in Bolzano, is the world’s first research institute in this field. Mountain emergency medicine is a specialist area within emergency medicine, says the Eurac website. The main aim of mountain emergency medicine is to improve the diagnosis and treatment of casualties and acutely ill patients in mountainous regions by raising the standard of Alpine emergency medicine to an internationally recognized evidence-based level. This will lead to a rational basis for the allocation of resources in the field of medical rescue services in mountainous areas. The main focus of the research embraces topics such as hypothermia and epidemiological investigations on the treatment of injuries and acute illnesses in difficult terrain, as well as the risks involved in the recovery and transportation of the casualties.

Engineered solutions for mountain risks
In Europe, a large number of civil engineering companies focus on built and civil engineering solutions to landscape management and to dealing with environmental risk factors, offering ways to stabilise mountain slopes against rock falls and avalanches; monitor glaciers, and find solutions that will ‘retrain’ rivers so that floods are avoided, all using technology, concrete and many new ideas and materials.  In Europe, a lot of money is invested in this type of protective infrastructure, and the landscape is no longer really ‘wild’, but is a highly managed, in both urban and rural areas.

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Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)
Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) is a big new thrust in developing countries, and can be seen as a form of ‘green’ civil engineering, or civil engineering for regions and communities where funding is in short supply and built solutions are either not available because of the remoteness of the area, or because no-one could afford these types of solutions anyway. Ecosystems-based adaptation approaches involve a range of ecosystem management activities aimed at increasing the resilience of people and their environment to disasters, especially those linked to climate change. These adaptation measures must integrate efforts to sustain and restore ecosystem functions and promote human wellbeing under changing climate conditions.

However, EbA is not just for distant rural areas and can be implemented anywhere.  A booklet on Rainwater Management Practices in Metro Vancouver is a case in point, where rather than hard infrastructure, ecosystems were used to manage urban storm water. The idea is that adapting to climate change will require a combination of approaches, from man-made infrastructure to holistic approaches involving restoring impoverished and damaged ecosystems. It would seem that efforts are now needed to test these approaches in African countries, including in the mountain regions. Floods are a very serious threat in African countries because so much vegetation cover has been reduced. Seems like a good time to put this vegetation back.