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August 31, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to the Ninth Edition of our Africa Weekly Digest - A round-up of the news and stories from across the continent that captivated our hearts and minds this past week. We hope you enjoy these stories and we look forward to your feedback.

Happy reading!


1. Images Show Africa Has Five Times More Wildfires Burning Than The Amazon: NASA's Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) technology shows  there are now approximately five times as many wildfires burning in Africa than the Amazon. The Savanna wildfires pose a threat to the world's second-largest tropical forest, which spans 500 million acres and provides a home to more than 2,000 species of animals and roughly 10,000 species of plants. The MODIS images documented more than 6,902 fires in Angola and 3,395 fires in the DRC, while picking up on just over 2,000 in Brazil.  A new report  by WWF produced in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) takes a deeper dive into fire trends and what they mean for people and the planet, and sets out recommendations to address the key causes. (WWF Forest Fires).

2. Launch of the Global Seed Vault - A unique 100-year experiment, the first of its kind, involving partners from all over the world will shed light on the longevity of seeds of 13 globally important crops. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault is a backup facility for the world’s crop diversity. In February 2020, the Seed Vault crossed the threshold of 1 million seed samples from 87 different institutes and organizations. Crop Trust. The seedbank at the Ethiopian Biodiversity Institute contains the largest and most important collection of plant seeds in sub-Saharan Africa. The facility stores seeds for more than 62,000 varieties of native plants related to horticultural production alone. There are also many  community seed banks in Africa that offer a sustainable way to improve access to high-value seeds, creating viable community-based businesses and maintaining biodiversity. They also indirectly enhance household income diversification, community seed systems, and gender outcomes at community level. (Atlas Obscura).

3. Hope in Serengeti as black rhino gives birth. The rhino population in Western Serengeti could well be flourishing following the birth of an eastern black calf. The new born is an offspring of the nine critically endangered black rhinos that were relocated from South Africa to Tanzania, in September last year. The calf’s birth represents the culmination of many years of hard work, dedication, healthy partnerships and the technical ability to relocate black rhino over long distances to new habitat. In the recent past, the Rhino population in the Serengeti decimated from over 10,000 individuals to just about 100 rhinos, and rebounded from 162 in 2015 to 190 in 2019. WWF Tanzania has been spearheading numerous Rhino conservation programmes including a robust awareness campaign with Wildlife Conservation Student Association (UDAWICOSA). (Rhino Review).

4. Loss of Ice in Greenland puts Africa and the world’s other vulnerable coastal cities at greater flood risk. On its own, ice loss from the world’s biggest island is responsible for more than 20% of sea-level rise since 2005, according to new data published last Thursday. The study collected years of data about shrinking ice sheets and declining groundwater resources by picking up on minute gravitational changes. The results are not only important for the community of scientists who study ice, but also for West Africa where sea levels are expected to rise faster than the global average and where the coastal areas host about one-third of the region's population and generate 56% of its GDP. (Earth.Org).

5. World Water Week at Home: With two-thirds of the world’s people facing water shortages for at least one month each year, the good news is that businesses are increasingly moving to sustainable water practices. For example, nearly 150 of the world’s largest companies are now using WWF’s Water Risk Filter to assess and respond to growing water risks ranging from scarcity to extreme floods. A growing youth movement for water was visible during WWWeek. One example was the Sudan Youth Parliament for Water, which since its foundation in 2016 has attracted 1,700 members across the country, 38 percent of whom are women. (World Water Week). 

6. Africa Kicks Out Polio in Historic Milestone. On August 25, 2020, the African Region was officially certified as wild poliovirus-free after three-decades of fighting a disease that once paralyzed 75,000 children on the continent every year.  This milestone comes after 25 years of coordination and commitment to scaling up and sustaining the delivery of vaccines to children in the hardest-to-reach places. Wild poliovirus paralyzed an estimated 75,000 children on the continent each year. Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and South Sudan were the most recent countries to cross the finish line to certification, meeting strict criteria, and remaining wild polio-free for three consecutive years. Now future generations of African children can live free of wild polio, and with a much younger population, Africa’s healthy workforce is poised to have far-reaching socio-economic benefits. (Center for Disease Control and Prevention).

7. North African Saharan Dust Plays a Fundamental Role in Fertilizing The Amazon: North African deserts have been reported to export ~200 million tons of dust per year to the tropical Atlantic Ocean - supplying nutrients to fertilize the Amazon Rainforest in boreal winter and spring through transatlantic dust transport. Saharan dust is carried across the Atlantic, settling in the Caribbean in the northern hemisphere summer and the Amazon basin in winter. A new study  shows that due to its high content in nutrients such as phosphorus, Saharan dust from El Douf  is fertilizing the Amazon. ( Advancing Earth and Space Science).

8. Mathematical Insights into the West African Monsoon support Agriculture in the Sahel: With about 80-90% of the population actively engaged in agriculture, farmers in the Sahel rely on rainfall, most of which arrives in summer when the West African monsoon system shifts direction. A new tool to help scientists understand how the monsoon moves moisture and dust—important ingredients for cloud formation and thus rainfall—will help the region’s farmers and those who rely on their crops. (The Conversation )

9. Urban mobility in Africa Post COVID19: A recent study in East Africa depicts the unhealthy levels of urban air quality in Addis Ababa, Kampala and Nairobi, largely due to vehicular emissions. The global decrease in road traffic is an opportunity for African cities to leapfrog into transport infrastructures that reflect realities on the ground. This can happen by avoiding street designs based on highways and sprawling roads (or at least disincentivizing them in places where such design has been embraced and even become mainstream) for a dominant motor vehicle class that does not exist. Several cities, from Cape Town to Kampala, offer a glimpse of how urban mobility might look in Africa's near future . For example, the city of Douala recently adopted a sustainable urban mobility plan that will fundamentally transform the urban transport network, starting with the implementation of a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) which will see an average resident having access to more than twice as many employment opportunities as before. (World Bank).

10. Graphic of The Week: A 3D Look at the Largest Population Density Centers. It can be difficult to comprehend the true sizes of megacities, or the global spread of nearly 7.8 billion people, but this series of population density maps makes the picture abundantly clear. Created using the EU’s population density data and mapping tool Aerialod by Alasdair Rae, the 3D-rendered maps highlight demographic trends and geographic constraints. Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is growing at 2.7% a year, which is more than twice as fast as South Asia (1.2%) and Latin America (0.9%). That means Africa is adding the population of France (or Thailand) every two years. (Visual Capitalist). 

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