The last three mountain glaciers in Africa are receding so much that they may disappear in the next 20 years, according to a recent United Nations report that outlines the many issues facing the continent due to global warming.
Ahead of the United Nations' climate change conference on Oct. 31, the World Meteorological Organization released a report on the state of Africa's climate in 2020, detailing how much the continent's estimated 1.3 billion people will be affected in the coming years.
The three mountain glaciers remaining — Mount Kenya in Kenya, the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda and the famous Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania — aren't big enough to provide water resources, but have become tourist attractions. Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, is one of the most popular climbs in the world.
However, the glaciers on the mountains are receding higher than the global average. If they continue to do so, they will be completely gone by the 2040s, the report says. Mount Kenya is on pace to deglaciate by 2030, which would make it "one of the first entire mountain ranges to lose glaciers due to human-induced climate change," according to the report.
Petteri Taalas, secretary-general for the WMO, said in a statement the eventual loss of the glaciers, "signals the threat of imminent and irreversible change to the Earth system."
Deglaciation is just one of many climate issues facing the continent, the report shows. Over 15 countries reported deaths or significant displacement of populations due to excessive flooding. In addition, droughts and dry conditions prevailed in northwest and southeastern parts of Africa, so much so that the country of Madagascar is experiencing a humanitarian crisis.
Temperatures in the past 30 years also increased faster than the global average, with 2020 being one of the continent's hottest years on record. In addition, sea levels rose up to 4.1 millimeters a year along the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts.
A drought or flood can result in food insecurity increasing by 5-20% in certain sub-Saharan African populations.
Worldwide, 12% of recent displacement of human population occurred in East Africa, resulting in over one million displacements.
If the trends continue and action is not taken, the report states up to 118 million people who live on less than $1.90 a day will be exposed to floods, droughts and extreme heat.
All of the concerning climate change possibilities come as COVID-19 as severely impacted the continent. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Africa has reported more than 6 million COVID-19 cases and 148,000 deaths, according to World Health Organization data. However, a recent report by the WHO states only 14.2% of infections are being detected.
Vaccination rates are also far behind, as just 4.96% of the continent is fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In September, the WHO estimated the continent only had enough vaccines to inoculate just 17% of the population this year, but efforts are being made to send more vaccines to countries.
Taalas said helping the continent overcome COVID-19 is just as important as avoiding climate disasters.
"Along with COVID-19 recovery, enhancing climate resilience is an urgent and continuing need. Investments are particularly needed in capacity development and technology transfer, as well as in enhancing countries’ early warning systems, including weather, water and climate observing systems," he said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.
Natural immunity is good: Getting vaccinated after being sick with COVID-19 is better