October 17, 2005

Climate change may mean green Sahel

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Rainfall over parts of Africa's
Sahel appears to be rising but its greening could prove a mixed
blessing if the population surges as a result and drought
follows, a leading ecologist said on Monday.

"Climate change models suggest the Sahel should be getting
drier but observations suggest it is currently getting wetter,"
Jon Lovett of the University of York in Britain told Reuters on
the sidelines of a conference on climate change in

"This could lead to an increase in food production and
population, but this will be bad if it suddenly goes into
another cycle of drought which cannot support all of the
additional people and livestock," he said.

"It has cycles of boom and bust."

Lovett said the Sahel was relatively green during the 1940s
through to the 1960s but since then it has gone into a dry
phase that seems to be ending.

Intriguingly, he said research done more than a decade ago
linked a wetter Sahel to increased hurricane activity in the
Gulf of Mexico -- and this appeared to be occurring in the wake
of the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

"This shows that what is happening in Africa can have an
affect on the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

The Sahel is a transition zone between the arid Sahara to
the north and the wetter more tropical areas in Africa to the

It includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger,
Nigeria and Chad.

Niger experienced a famine this year brought on by poor
rains and locust swarms, underscoring the region's