Africa, with its hodgepodge of nations, emits only about 4 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. Yet, global warming is making its presence felt in a big way across the continent.
Homes along the western coast are being swallowed by waves eroding the shoreline. Highland regions, which until recently never had to worry about mosquitoes, are experiencing an increase of malaria cases.
The urgency of the problems is one reason many people are focusing on whether an agreement can be reached at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change that began Nov. 28 in Durban, South Africa.
Grand Bassa in central Liberia offers a frightening snapshot of how global warming is literally destroying people's lives.
"My home may be swept away tomorrow, so I cannot sleep with ease," said William Stevens, 50, a fisherman living in Grand Bassa.
His tin-roofed dwelling sits precariously on a small cliff. At low tide, it is about 10 meters from the water's edge. But at high tide, the waves come right up to his home, eroding the foundations.
The home of a neighbor that was closer to the ocean has already been claimed by the sea.
"My family has lived here for more than 100 years," Stevens said. "Why is this happening to me now? I want someone to help me."
Samuel C. Adu-Arnoh, 45, is secretary-general of Fanti Town Community. He said coastal erosion became noticeable in the 1990s.
He said that over a stretch of 1 kilometer of coastline, the ocean has encroached as much as 200 meters inland. Of the 1,800 or so homes that once formed the community, 725 have been washed away.
Some residents have surrounded their homes with wooden pillars, but to little effect. Many people do not want to move away, even after losing their homes.
"Fishermen live by the coast and farmers live further inland. That has been the rule for a long time. If I moved inland, someone would steal my fishing gear and boat," said one resident.
Coastal erosion has affected much of Africa, but mostly on the western side.
While the decrease of sediment flowing in from rivers due to dam construction has been cited as a reason, Africa actually has relatively few dams. Because of this, experts are wondering if climate change is already causing sea levels to rise.
So far, no effective measures have been devised to combat the coastal erosion.
Mounkaila Goumandakoye, director and regional representative of the Regional Office for Africa at the U.N. Environment Program, said: "In Africa, at least 20 million people have been affected by soil erosion. If global warming continues unchanged, as many as 70 million people could be affected by 2080."
The highlands of Kenya in eastern Africa are also feeling the effects of global warming.
Karatina is a town at the foot of the 5,199-meter high Mount Kenya, the nation's highest peak.
Jane Wanjiku, 48, who operates a store here, contracted malaria for the first time six years ago.
"I had a high fever and felt lethargic," Wanjiku said. "I had symptoms of malaria, a disease that until then I had only heard about through rumors."
Symptoms of malaria have since appeared on a yearly basis.
Malaria, an infectious disease borne by mosquitoes, is most prevalent in tropical regions.
Karatina is part of the highlands and sits at an altitude of about 1,800 meters. The cool weather of the town meant that malaria was almost unknown there until a few years ago.
Now, however, a local medical clinic tests several hundreds of patients every month for malaria.
One nurse said, "This was not a region where malaria was common in the past."
According to Morangi, 48, who has worked in Karatina as a nurse for many years, "Malaria patients began turning up around 15 years ago. Before then, we did not have any mosquitoes. No one ever heard the sound of buzzing mosquitoes."
Because no specialized study has been done, the specific number of malaria patients is unknown.
Evelyn Moulioki, 22, teaches at a local elementary school.
"Of the 33 children at the school, five come down with malaria every year," she said. "That was unthinkable when I was a child." She also first contracted malaria two years ago. She now uses mosquito netting every night. Efforts have just begun to prevent the spread of malaria in the region.
According to the World Health Organization, about 200 million people come down with malaria around the world each year. It is estimated that 780,000 people died from the disease in 2009. About 80 percent of the cases were in nations of sub-Saharan Africa.
Shem O. Wandinga, a professor of chemistry at the University of Nairobi who is knowledgeable about the relationship between malaria outbreaks and climate change, said the area where infection has been confirmed has spread.
"If global warming continues, more areas will exist where mosquitoes are found," Wandinga said.
According to a study of the highlands area, temperatures there have risen by an average of 2.5 degrees over the past 25 years.
Another factor behind the malaria epidemic is the greater incidence of torrential rain. This is blamed on irregularity in the cycles between the dry and rainy seasons.
"An environment comfortable for mosquitoes has been created even in the highlands," Wandinga said. "Infections can also more easily spread because residents of the highlands have no resistance to malaria."
Paul Guthiga, a researcher at the International Livestock Research Institute, headquartered in Nairobi, who is knowledgeable about global environment policy, said: "Although Africa bears no responsibility for the current climate change, it is receiving only the negative effects from those changes. Africa does not have the ability to prevent damage."
Regarding the COP17, Guthiga said: "I hope the advanced nations will decide on specific monetary contributions to save Africa from the damage. Africa faces a situation that does not allow for further delays."
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