10 December 2006

Africa losing its lakes

The lakes are going away big time and it’s mostly due to hot, dry weather at their source inflows rather than over-use. I was impressed by this quote:

A further dramatic drop in Victoria’s water levels might even turn off this spigot for the Nile, a lifeline for more than 100 million Egyptians, Sudanese and others.

That’s half a dozen Australias or sixty Western Australias being fed from one river!

In Perth, you’d have panicky politicians setting up massive stills in a hurry, but that wouldn’t be helping people from Geraldton or Mount Newman or Esperance very much.

Also, most of our population is in or near Perth, over good-quality sealed roads. Africa’s people are spread out hither & yon over roads of random quality with limited and “interesting” mechanical service en route.

Africa has 4 million square kilometers of deserts (ie, their deserts are nearly twice as big as all of Western Australia, nearly as big as all of Australia), where Australia only has three deserts scraping past a hundred thousand square kilometers. Antarctica is a desert, too, but I don’t think the cases are quite the same...

Also, it’s not just drinking water vanishing:

Tanzanian factories have shut down because the rivers powering hydroelectric dams, and replenishing Lake Victoria, are running dry. Kampala, a city of more than 1 million, has endured hours-long blackouts daily.

Lack of power would make running stills & filters more difficult, too. The power station operators are arguing with others about their water useage, pointing to Lake Tanganyika’s dam-unassisted drop in levels.

At the moment, lake fishermen are doing stuff like grounding their flat-bottomed boats some way from the jetty, then dragging fish across & hoiking them onto the jetty for delivery. Some lakes are dropping half an inch a day, which will make such processes extremely difficult. Lake Chad, once the world’s sixth-largest lake, is now at two percent of its original size.

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