Mt Rwenzori will not deglaciate even after 20 years – UWA officials

Officials at Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), have argued that Mt Rwenzori will not lose its glaciers even after 20 years; saying the mountains received the heaviest snowfall in six years.

This refute comes a few days after the release of the 2020 State of the Climate in Africa report by the United Nations (UN) that the only three mountains in East Africa covered by glaciers; have significantly lost their glaciers as a result of infrequent snowfall caused by changes in the temperature of the water close to the surface of the Indian Ocean.

According to the report jointly done by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), International and regional scientific organizations, and United Nations agencies, these changes mean mountains; Mt Rwenzori in Uganda, Kenya in Kenya, and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania would lose their glaciers in the next 20 years due to climate change.

The report was released on October 19, barely two weeks to the start of the 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), otherwise known as the Conference of Parties (COP), which will be held in Glasgow from October 31-November 13, 2021.

However, John Makombo, the Director in charge of conservation and UNESCO Focal Person at UWA told theCooperator in an interview; “It is a very wrong report. Not even after 20 years will the mountain lose its glaciers.”

“The current pictures of Mt. Rwenzori are very different with a lot of snow. That is why I am still saying, that report is wrong, they (UN) should have credible research for them to state such,” Makombo said.

James Okware, a senior warden in charge of Mt Rwenzori Mountains National Park revealed last week that, the area experienced the heaviest snowfall in six years and all the mountain peaks were covered with snow.

“The snowfall accumulated to 3 feet high from the usual 2.5. And if the rain continues for a month like it did last week, then that very part will turn into glaciers,” Okware said.

Glaciers form when snow piles upon each other, melt, and compact.

Okware also drew his confidence in the longevity of the glaciers from research done by Dr. Richard Taylor in 2004, which concluded that Mt. Rwenzori would lose its glaciers by 2023, but we are still seeing some (glaciers) and 2023 is near.

The officials of the tourist site however do not dispute that the glaciers of the mountain have been receding over the years. Over the last decade, the temperature on the mountains increased by 1.5 degrees centigrade, causing a decrease in the glaciers from 15 square kilometres in 1900 to 1.5 square kilometres as of 2021.

But the reduction in glaciers only happens during the dry season, which makes the leaders believe that they won’t go off completely.

Conservation efforts

UWA with funds from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is attempting to conserve the Rwenzori mountains area by facilitating the neighboring community to reforest and create a buffer zone around the mountains, with financial support from World Wildlife Fund.

In 2020, UWA marked up to 54 square kilometres of the degraded area around the park, and this year distributed 100,000 tree seedlings to the locals to increase the tree coverage and reduce their heavy reliance on the trees near the park.

“We intend to plant more than 2 million trees near the park because most have been cut.”

“Besides, UWA is supporting the locals with income-generating activities such as beekeeping, goat rearing, rabbit keeping, fish farming to minimize their reliance on the park,” Okware said.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site with at least 70 wildlife species, some of which are found only in the Rwenzori area, and nowhere else in the world.

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