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Global Warming Could Melts Africa's Famed Mountain Peaks

3/18/2014, 10:24 a.m. | Updated on 3/18/2014, 10:24 a.m.
Ice is vanishing from Africa’s snow-topped peaks, raising fears of a meltdown from the continent’s “Alps.”
Stanley Baluku of Rwenzori Mountaineering Services

Mar. 17 (GIN) – Ice is vanishing from Africa’s snow-topped peaks, raising fears of a meltdown from the continent’s “Alps.”

"We are the last few who will climb on the ice, it is going so fast," said John Medenge, who scaled the treacherous ridge up Mount Stanley, part of the Rwenzori mountain range straddling the border between Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

At 16,763 feet, Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.

Within two decades Africa's equatorial peaks could be bare rock, impacting agriculture and tourism.

"Every year the ice grows smaller," 54-year old Medenge added, who has been climbing the range since a teenager.

"The melting of this unique African glacier is a major threat to local communities, with the obvious loss of sustainable water supplies," said Luc Hardy of Pax Arctica, an organization that promotes awareness of the impact of climate change, and who led an expedition in January to the mountains.

"The melting glaciers are another warning sign, a 'canary in the mine' of mankind's inability to contain climate change and its negative consequences," said Hardy.

Reduced glacial river flows are already impacting agricultural production and cutting the output of hydroelectric power plants, said Richard Atugonza, from the Mountain Resource Centre at Uganda's Makerere University.

"It can be a big problem in the future for the region, with the river ecology already changing," he said.

The mist-covered Rwenzoris -- meaning "rain-maker" in the local Bakonzo language -- stretch for some 386 square miles, and include several short glaciers, though on many peaks remaining ice is now tiny patches."

Global warming was not caused by people here, but it is harming us," said Stanley Baluku of the community-run Rwenzori Mountaineering Services. “When the ice goes it will affect tourism, even though trekking in the valleys is amazing," he added.