How climate change looks — and feels — in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
KISANGANI – The searing heat of the last few months in this northern city of the Democratic Republic of Congo is taking its toll. Newborns, the elderly and albinos are the first victims, while others will feel the effects of the crop damage expected from one of the worst heat waves in memory.
Over the past three months, average temperatures in Kisangani have risen from 25°C to 38°C. “This is a first. The city has never known a level over 32°C,” says one veteran meteorologist.
Still, last year there was also a rise in temperatures, and some experts are blaming global warming. Climate expert Emmanuel Kasongo from Kisangani University points the finger at deforestation, which he says “diminishes the frequency of rainfall, modifies the agricultural calendar and produces greater heat.” He exhorts the woodland farmers as well as the population to plant trees.
Beyond the longterm impact, locals are feeling the heat right now. Babies are the first victims. One naked infant of three months is lying face down on a sofa, crying. Her mother tries to take her in her arms to calm her down but it’s useless. “She’s having trouble sleeping because of this red patch,” says the woman. “I’ve been using this ointment the doctor prescribed but it doesn’t work.”
These last three months, the local pediatric center of Alabul has taken in three times as many dehydrated babies as it did during the same period in 2012. Head nurse Alphie Kahambu blames it on the rising temperatures: “Obviously, when it’s 32°C the babies feel 38°C. It results in spots and severe itching sensations. As the infants don’t know how to scratch, they cry a lot, which leads to dehydration.”
Albinos without sunblock
The significant populaiton of albinos are the most affected, since the sun rays cause lesions on their skin. According to the figures provided by the Association for the Protection of Albinos (APRODEPA), “80% of the albino population suffers from minor wounds on their skin and mouth because of the high temperatures,” explains association president Severin Ndumba. “The situation is getting worse since we have no sunscreen to protect us at this time of year.”
The pharmacists refuse to order those products since they don’t sell well on the local market. “No one buys sunscreen. I threw away a whole case of a hundred last year,” says one pharmacist. Another complains that the products are expensive “and most albinos, or their parents, are poor.”
The sheet metal roofs used in local building turn the houses into virtual ovens and many families choose to sleep outside with the doors and windows wide open. One family was robbed recently, but the mother says they have no choice. “It’s too hot inside. My kids caught a heat rash on their backs because of it.”
The plants are also taking a hit. “Every crop is affected by the excessive heat and the harvests have been dropping the last two years,” explains Quadratus Muganza, president of the peasant union for development (UPDKIS). “We used to harvest between 800 and 1000 kilograms of white rice per hectare in 2010, but it plummeted to 400 or 600 in 2011 and 2012.”
Tomatoes are withering under the sun. “We are losing serious money!” says a tomato farmer in front of his field by the river Tshopo. She’s already lost ten patches of large tomatoes since March.