Science - November 9, 2006

‘People have no idea about climate change’

The consequences of global warming are especially disastrous for Africa, concluded UNEP, the UN environment organisation, last Monday at the 12th conference on climate change in Nairobi. Droughts on the one hand and flooding on the other will damage harvests. ‘From the grassroots to the global level, measures should be taken,’ says Anna Maria Simon, Tanzanian student of Environmental Studies.

‘I was born and raised in the Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania. As a small girl I was used to the view of the snow on Kilimanjaro. But nowadays little snow is left. It is decreasing due to global warming. And the weather is changing as well in the region. As it is a high and mountainous area, the weather used to be pretty cold. Now it is hot as elsewhere in the country.’

According to Anna Maria Simon, the changes due to climate change in her country are obvious. Apart from the melting snow and increasing temperatures, droughts are also occurring more often and rivers that used to run all year round are now little seasonal streams. ‘Tanzania has hydroelectric power plants in the river Ruaha in the south. But these are no longer delivering power because there is not enough water in the river.’

Anna Maria arrived just this September in Wageningen to do an MSc in Environmental Studies, after completing her bachelor’s in Nature Management, and wants to specialise in environmental policymaking later on in her study. She believes global as well as local action should be taken to reverse global warming before it’s too late. ‘Even at a grassroots level things need to be done, for example reforestation. And in the big cities awareness should be raised as well. For example, it is a fashionable desire among young people in Dar-es-Salaam to drive a private car of your own. Instead, I believe a good system of public transport should be developed.’ The Tanzanian government is taking measures, Anna Maria knows. For example it raised the tax on importing old and polluting cars, and it lowered the taxes on alternative energy sources like gas, to discourage the use of charcoal for cooking which is common in Tanzania. But also on a global level efforts should be made, she believes. ‘Countries should be forced in some way to reduce their CO2 emissions.’

At the conference on climate change in Nairobi, industrialised countries were called upon to contribute more to help Africa to cope with the consequences of climate change in Africa. But Anna Maria is not so enthusiastic about this idea. ‘Of course, highly industrialised countries produce a lot of CO2. Efforts should be taken both at a global level and at a local level, and they should be well coordinated. But I don’t like the idea of aid, aid and more aid. It would be better if industrialised countries like the USA agreed to stop the emission of CO2. And developing countries should do something themselves as well.’

One of the issues that requires attention in Tanzania is awareness, Anna Maria believes. ‘Normal people in Tanzania have no idea about climate change. This is something that only educated people know about. But that does not mean that farmers don’t talk about the changes. They see that the rain pattern is changing; that there is more drought. They may not know about the causes, they may believe that God got mad with them, but they see what is happening. I think that an awareness campaign should be organised to inform the public and to make clear what people themselves can do to prevent further climate change.’ / Joris Tielens - photo Guy Ackermans