24 February 2014

Gambia: Curbing Climate Change

editorial

Climate change in The Gambia is a critical problem, which is adversely affecting the structure and function of the country's ecosystems. Upland ecosystems have degraded largely due to erratic rainfall, overgrazing, soil erosion and intensive cultivation, the result of intense pressure on land resources, high population growth and recurrent droughts. Lowland ecosystems and riverine wetlands are threatened by salinity in the western half of the country, siltation and sedimentation resulting from upland degradation caused by erosion.

Declining rainfall over the last 45 years has increased aridity in the uplands and acidity/salinity of soils in the lowlands. The reduced flow of the Gambia River has caused saltwater intrusion from the Atlantic Ocean in much of the river basin. This degradation is manifested through loss of the natural productivity of the land; loss of native biological diversity and therefore its resilience; increased emission of carbon dioxide and reduced carbon sequestration; and the degradation of watershed functions, including destabilization of sediment storage and release. Scientists predict that unless human beings significantly reduce carbon emissions, sea levels will rise, and weather patterns will shift violently. Human-caused pollution has left our planet on the verge of a tipping point in which ecosystems will die resulting in the release of massive amounts of CO2. If that happens, the changes to the climate could be irreversible, countless species will become extinct, and our economic and cultural way of life will be critically altered.

Consequently, humanity should not spare any effort to curb the global warming crisis. According to experts, by taking action now, we can reduce emissions by more than 85 present, by the middle of the century, and prevent this climatic catastrophe before it is too late. In The Gambia and in most Sub-Saharan countries, protecting tropical ecosystems and rain forests should be a moral obligation. We owe it tofuture generations to preserve our environment to mitigate possible catastrophic consequenciesfromthe irresponsible behavior of big business and multinational companies. The responsibility to create a better world, which is home to more biodiversity than any other ecosystem, is key to protecting the planet's health and curbing climate change. This can only be done, if we decide inexorably to change the path of tackling environmental issues.

As Antoine de Saint-Exupery puts it in 'The Little Prince:' 'to be human is to be responsible'. As such, time has come for us to bear in mind that forests have provided and continue to provide homes and habitats for countless plant and animal species, as well as for human communities. They also serve as shields against global warming, by storing massive amounts of carbon. The world's rainforests (which are being cleared to satisfy human needs), help regulate the planet's weather cycles by circulating wind and water vapour outward from the tropics. It is time to act and the salutary alternative is to dislodge environmental issues from the intellectual ghetto and move on with concrete practical actions.

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