The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment recently presented Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment, a study that features over 300 satellite images taken in every country in Africa in over 100 locations. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs, some of which span a 35-year period, offer striking snapshots of local environmental transformation across the continent. It chronicles how development choices, population growth, climate change and, in some cases, conflicts are impacting the natural assets of the region.
Here are two views of the region around Bumba in the Nord-Ubangi and Mongala provinces of the DRC. The one on the right is from 1975. You can see the pattern of deforestation concentrated along the local roads as loops of light green through the otherwise dense rain forest. In the right-side image, taken in 2003, these deforested corridors have widened considerably, almost joining in many places.
Most of this deforestation is the result of agricultural conversion, fuelwood collection, settlement, and artisanal logging. Networks of logging roads can also be seen within two of the patches of largely intact forest in the lower right corner of the 2003 image. Full size high resolution images are available at UNEP Atlas of our Changing Environment.
The report says
While industrial logging has had a relatively small impact in the DRC in the past, it has recently become the most extensive form of land use in Central Africa. More than half of the area visible in these images is under logging concession. The selective logging practised by commercial logging companies has been shown to have long-lasting impacts on forest composition. Logging roads have been shown to significantly increase bushmeat hunting.
In addition to local and logging roads, a recent study for the World Bank suggests the road from Bangui, CAR, to Kisangani, DRC, be improved as part of a continental road network. The study shows that the network would increase trade on this route enormously. It also acknowledges concern that parts of the road network that would experience the greatest increase in trade correspond to areas with the highest biodiversity.
It’s also interesting to note that the relative peace in this part of the country has enabled the commercial development that’s causing this deforestation.