Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Are Weather Changes Coming To West Africa?

Clyde Ahmad Winters

Clyde Ahmad Winters of Uthman dan Fodio Institute, Chicago, examines the various theories about the desertification that is slowly, but surely, threatening one- third of the earth and many West African countries.
Deserts cover 9 million square miles of the earth's surface. According to the United Nations Environment Pro- gramme (UNEP), desertification is threatening one-third of the earth and 100 countries, many of them in West Africa.

UNEP believes that as many as 850 million people have their livelihood at risk due to desertification. Each year 6 million hectares of land is lost to desert; and 21 million hectares each year is made unproductive.

In the past many experts believed that deforestation by man was the cause behind the present climatic changes in Africa, and the present drought. But recent evidence suggests that desertification may be accelerating as a result of changing weather pat- terns rather than human activity.

Many West African farmers and nomads depend upon seasonal rains, which come from mid-June to October. After the seasonal rains, Saharan air moves southward and the only water available for use by farmers during this period comes from rivers, water-holes and wells.

Since 1967 drought has been plaguing West Africa. In Senegal due to a lack of rain, sea water is backing up into rivers causing salinization in certain areas. The upper reaches of the Gambia river have dried up, and the Niger river water levels are low. As a result many wild animals and fish have been killed.

After the 'end' of the 1967-1974 drought, some experts claimed that the sinking of new boreholes in the Sahel and the vaccination of cattle may have led to overgrazing. This in turn supposedly led to expansion of the desert. To support this claim they cite the fact that during the 1970's drought, cattle died of starvation rather than thirst. Other researchers believe that the destruction of trees for fire-wood as a result of population growth and intensive methods of cultivation, point to the human activities contributing to desertification in West Africa.

But there is little hard evidence to support the theory that man is the cause of West African drought conditions. The probable cause of Africa's drought are natural conditions such as disruption in the atmosphere, wind circulation, variation in the earth's orbit. around the sun, and the amount of solar energy reaching the earth.

Many scientists today theorize that nature, rather than man, is causing increased desertification. Archaeologist William Farrand, of the University of Michigan, says that the lesson to be learned here, in relation to the 1968-1974 drought, "is that humans have not created the desert or its expansion, but they must learn to live with the fickle climatic regime of such a region".

Professor John Caldwell, of Austra- lia National University, who did demographic work for the U.N., on mortal- ity figures in the last great African drought noted that "very little has been done anywhere in the last ten years to carry out a scientific investiga- tion in poor arid, developing countries to measure the impact of rising popula- tion densities upon the environment".

Dr Farouk al-Baz, the world's lead- ing authority on deserts, made it clear in Arabia, that "the misguided notion that the desert is man-made comes from scanty observations at the fringes of the desert, particularly at times of drought". He continues, "this overly simplistic view does not take into account the extremely fragile nature of the habitable environment at the desert fringe. It overlooks the fact that the desert fringe is as easily improved by rainfall as it is easily damaged by drought". All of these comments by well-known authorities point to Nature, as the cause behind increased desertification in West Africa.

But since most 'experts' accept the theory that drought conditions in Africa are the result of man's activities, they feel that man can reverse the trend. As a result monies have been invested in improving West Africa's economy and containing drought damage. But the drought conditions continue, and are spreading to other parts of the African continent.

Today there are poor harvest in the Sahel countries because of insufficient and irregular rainfall, between 1977- 1980. Cereal production in the Sahel only satisfied 57% of the grain needs in 1977-1978, 43% in 1978-1979 and only 19% in 1979-1980. In 1983, according to the FAO, the Continent faced an 8% drop in grain production.

The spread of drought into southern African cannot be blamed on Sahelian nomads and changing patterns of land use by West African farmers. This sug- gests that Africa's drought conditions are the result of weather changes.

The slowly spreading desert may render these irrigated farmlands unproductive.

Mr Derek Winstanley, a dry-climate theorist suggested some years ago that weather patterns are changing in West Africa. Mr Winstanley's study shows that in the last 120 years, there has been a marked reduction in rainfall of 25-45%. His examination of diaries and reports indicates that a century ago there were higher river levels and longer rainy seasons.

These changing weather patterns in Africa are causing the present ten year oil drought in West Africa. The drought in Africa may result from increased European industrialization, which has heated up the air over Europe, or soon there will be a change in the earth's orbit.

This hot air from Europe, which is then carried south into Africa, may in turn hinder the development of consistent seasonal rains in Africa. Changes in the jet streams from year to year can cause crop failures and droughts. Common causes of jet stream aberrations can result from variable in land-and-sea-surface temperatures, or ter- restrial features such as mountains. Jet streams are affected by the contrast of temperature and pressure under them. Since the African continent lacks major terrestrial high land masses, land surface temperatures influence weather patterns.

European temperatures affect Africa's climatic conditions.

It is no secret that the Sahara was not always a desert. When Europe is experiencing an Ice Age, the Sahara is fertile and well watered. But as Europe becomes warmer, the Sahara becomes drier.

Although this pattern of warm Europe-arid Sahara, and cool Europe- moderate Sahara has been consistant for thousands of years, the increased industrialization of Europe over the past fifty years has caused the air over Europe to become abnormally hot. This hot air pressure over Europe is carried southward to Africa by the winds and is probably causing the seasonal rains to be erratic or fall out over the Atlantic Ocean instead of the African continent.

If the increasing menace of the greenhouse effect is already affecting Africa, African farmers may have to change their methods of agriculture. For example, as the Sahara moves southward although the grass has dried trees remain green. This means that up in many parts of West Africa there is some water below the surface. As a result West African farmers may have to use more irrigation agricultural techniques to improve grain production.

The drought in Africa may be a sign of the impending change in the earth's orbit. Changes in the earth's orbital parameters have long determined climatic conditions in Europe and Africa.

Eight thousand years ago the Sahara was the centre of world civilization. But due to orbital fluctuations, this civilization was destroyed and African people were forced to migrate to other parts of Africa formerly occupied by the pygmies.

Orbital fluctuations are the result of changes in the earth's magnetic field. The earth's magnetic field results from the earth's core acting like a dynamo. Convection currents in the earth's core give motion and the electric currents generated by this action creates the magnetic field.

Changes in the earth's orbit leads to increases and decreases of the magnetic force, this in turn affects the amount of solar energy striking the earth at various places on the globe. The earth's magnetic field accounts for the earth's environments, and can cause Ice Ages, dry periods, etc.

There is accumulating scientific evidence that variations in the earth's orbit have played a major role in glacial, inter-glacial fluctuations, or dry and wet periods in the Sahara. What many of us may not know is that archaeologists and geologists have discovered palaearctic artifact in West Africa, indicating that this area was covered with glaciers. Some scientists claim that due to a change in the earth's magnetic field thousands of years ago parts of the Sahara and West Africa were once the South Pole.

During the glacial periods, glaciers grew on the Atlas mountains during the last 50,000 years. During the non-glacial period there was more moisture in Saharan Africa. This led to the enlargement of lakes and marshes in the Sahara.

Africans probably once lived in an arctic climate. The appearance of the so-called oriental eye fold, among West Africans and the straight hair of such groups as the Fulani, may be the result of living in areas abounding in glaciers. This theory is supported by the fact that the presence of straight hair and the oriental fold are the direct consequence of adaptation made by humans who live in an arctic environment

This data suggest that Saharan Africa goes through alternating dry and wet periods at 6,000 year intervals. This means that the present dry period which began around 4000 BC should end sometime around 2000 AD, or the end of this century. The droughts in Africa may be indicating the gradual shift in the earth's orbit.

In summary, Africa's drought may indicate changing African weather patterns. Although man cannot stop this natural process he must develop to these physical changes. Let's hope new techniques to accommodate/adapt West African governments will recognize that weather patterns are chang ideas, programmes and policies that ing, and that they must think up new will accommodate these changes, now that we know that deforestation by man alone, may not account for West Africa's present severe climatic conditions.

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