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Africa Needs to Know the Weather

"It is a difficult proposition, drafting a weather map for a country that has never seen one."


Weather in East Africa is a myth. Limited access to mass media plus simple and predicable meteorological patterns have conspired to make the climate inherent, social knowledge. December to February of each year is a dry season, as is June to October. The rest of the year is wet. "These patterns have always been reliable, so much so that the burgeoning newspaper industries in Uganda and Kenya did not bother to print even the most cursory of weather maps-until now.Years riddled with misplaced climate disasters-including last year's disastrous floods in the usually dry month of August that displaced thousands in Uganda-have convinced the Daily Monitor, the leading independent newspaper in Uganda, and the Daily Nation, Kenya's paper of record, to revisit the weather map question. I know because they asked me to design the map.
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It is a difficult proposition, drafting a weather map for a country that has never seen one.
It is a difficult proposition, drafting a weather map for a country that has never seen one. Not that it is a bad idea. Uganda is a fundamentally agrarian society-over 80 percent of its 30 million citizens are involved in agriculture-so the people are more dependent on the vagaries of the heavens than many places in this world. But I can't help but feel the hefty irony of making a map for a country the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently included on a list of the 100 most vulnerable countries. My bright and relentlessly cheery "sunny" icon belies the depth of desperation of a third-world country bearing the brunt of what the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, calls an "act of aggression" perpetrated by the rich world against the poor world-in other words, drought caused by global warming brought on by the first-world's excessive use of resources. My lovingly detailed "partly cloudy" icons could just as easily portend the flooding of thousands of mud homes and attendant displacement, famine, and death just as easily as an afternoon shower.I felt, and still feel, overwhelmed by the inadequacy of it all. I started to think about the perfect weather map of the continent, an utterly honest map that takes into account sub-Saharan Africa's unique but perilous position in the world. I think it would look a little something like the map below.

The Next Century

SAHARA DESERT: 5-7% increase in arid/semi-arid land by 2080 as Saharan dunes shift southMT. KILIMANJARO: Ice fields, already reduced more than 80%, are likely to disappear between 2015-2020WEST AFRICA: With more than 40% of the population living in coastal cities, predicted flooding in 2080 in the Accra/Niger delta could put more than 50 million people at riskSOUTH AFRICA: A Kruger Park study estimates a 66% loss of zebra and nyala
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