U.N. urges decisive action to save Africa’s lakes

Africa’s 650-plus lakes are degrading at an astonishing rate, says the U.N., and protecting them is crucial to restoring the continent’s health and boosting its prosperity. The U.N. Environment Program’s new “Africa’s Lakes: An Atlas of Environmental Change” compares recent and past satellite images of the water bodies, revealing massive changes. Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest freshwater lake, has dropped by over three feet in the past decade; Lake Chad has diminished nearly 90 percent. The report blames climate change, deforestation, population growth, and poor irrigation practices — up to 90 percent of Africa’s water is used in farming, with 40 to 60 percent of that lost to seepage and evaporation — as well as natural rainfall cycles. The images should “ring a warning around the world that, if we are to overcome poverty and meet internationally agreed development goals by 2015, the sustainable management of Africa’s lakes must be part of the equation,” says UNEP executive director Klaus Toepfer.