Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Tuesday, 10 June 2008 17:06 UK

Atlas shows vanishing landscape

By Martin Plaut
BBC Africa editor

Ruwenzori Mountains in Uganda, pictured on the left in 1987 and on the right in 2005 (UNEP image)
Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains in 1987 on the left and in 2005 on the right

A new atlas published by the UN charts Africa's rapidly changing environmental landscape from disappearing glaciers in Uganda to a vanishing lake in Mali.

Comparing photographs from the present day and 30 years ago, it shows how economic development, climate change and conflict have all taken their toll.

The atlas from the UN Environment Programme surveys every African nation.

There are also examples of things changing for the better, like in Niger where trees are being replanted.

Yellow spider webs

In nearly 400 pages of glossy colour photographs the atlas documents the degradation of a once pristine continent.

Good management and careful management of resources there can turn around the situation in a relatively short period of time
UN's Marion Cheatle

Before and after images chart the devastating impact humans have had on their environment.

Roads driven through the Democratic Republic of Congo's rainforests spread a yellow spider webs across the landscape, as trees are hacked down.

The UN estimates Africa is losing four million hectares of forest a year - twice the global average.

Rising populations mean that almost every environment is now under pressure.

But much of the environmental damage in Africa is being brought about by global climate change.

Africa only produces 4% of the world's carbon dioxide.

Yet Marion Cheatle of the UN Environment Programme says Africa will suffer disproportionately from the results of climate change.

"They are bearing the brunt of this change, which is a very unfair situation, if you think about it."

Across all of Africa the impact of human activity is clear - whether in the newly irrigated areas created by the waters of the Nile, turning huge areas of the desert around Egypt's lake Nasser green, or the urban sprawl of Dakar, across the Cap Vert peninsula in Senegal.

But there also are in examples of change being reversed as in Niger's Tahouah province. Trees - once cut down at will - are now nurtured and cared for by local people.

The photographs clearly show an arid region being slowly brought back to life, over a period of 30 years.

For Ms Cheatle it is proof that degradation can be reversed.

"Gradually that tree population has gone up 10 to 20 times.

"It shows that good management and careful management of resources there can turn around the situation in a relatively short period of time."

The changing face of Africa
10 Jun 08 |  Africa

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