While visiting the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) last week, I happened on to the African Environment Day celebrated every year on March 3. This celebration was created in 2002 when the Council of Ministers of the (then) Organization of Africa Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU), adopted the idea proposed by Libya. The AU tapped Tanzania to host this year’s meeting, which was entitled “African Resilience to Climate Change: Protecting Biodiversity and Enhancing Traditional Knowledge.” Participants included Environment Ministers from many African countries, as well as representatives of the AU, UNEP, the Convention on Biodiversity Secretariat, the World Meteorological Association, World Wildlife Foundation, and the UNFCCC Secretariat. After a series of presentations by experts on resilience, REDD, and the biodiversity conservation, the conference delegates adopted the Arusha Communique on African Environment Day. Active learning was also the order of the day, with a tree planting ceremony, REDD initiative showcasing, and field excursions (safaris) to Arusha National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area.
Some of the conference’s key points:
1. Yields from rain-fed agriculture in Africa (the most common kind) will diminish 50% by 2020.
2. These reduced yields affect food security and health, as well as individual economies, given the large role agriculture plays in most African countries’ GDPs (10 – 70%).
3. Interacting climate change impacts and feedbacks multiply the hardships. For example, the melting glaciers of Mount Kilimanjaro (in Tanzania) result from a combination of global warming, solar radiation, vegetation changes, and human interactions. Between 1912 and 2003, approximately 80% of the glacier surface has disappeared.
Of course, I only learned of this event because of the beautiful fabric at right. Fabric and baskets are my Achilles heel. So when I walked into the Arusha International Conference Center, the ICTR’s landlord, and saw a registration table cloaked in this colorful fabric, I had to know more.
A quick peak at the conference brochure spoke to the climate change topic and so I promptly introduced myself, presented my business card, and explained my interest in climate change impacts on Africa. Fortune smiled on me that day, for the patient perseverance skills honed in Rwanda and Senegal produced an introduction to Joseph Qamara, Private Secretary to the Minister of State (Environment). Mr. Qamara listened respectfully to my (admittedly odd) request to obtain some of this fabric, and gave me an opportunity to tell him about the Vermont Law School, its environmental law program, and my Fulbright work on climate change in Senegal. Two days later, he called on me at my hotel and presented me with the conference briefcase and portfolio, beautifully decorated in the Tanzanian flag’s brilliant yellow, blue, black, and green hues; commemorative caps and shirts; copies of the papers and speeches given at the conference; and THE fabric that had covered the registration table.
Beautiful! Having been on safari with my family in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Tarangire, celebrated New Year 2003 in Zanzibar, and then later climbed Mount Meru with girlfriends and driven to Malawi via southern Tanzania, I’ve long admired the beauty of Tanzania’s varied flora and fauna and the warmth of her people. Asante sana many times over.