About 15 million people in the Sahel belt of central and west Africa are facing an immediate food crisis. Part of the cause is man-made by conflict and weak governance. But at the heart of this humanitarian crisis is our old foe: climate change.

Bartley Kives of the Winnipeg Free Press offers this important report:

Decades of declining agricultural productivity have led millet and sorghum farmers to plant crops on every available patch of land, which often means removing the trees and shrubs that hold the soil in place.

Decreasing forage for goats and sheep, which have replaced gazelles and addax as the dominant ungulates in the Sahel, have led nomadic herders to allow their animals to mow down young trees before they have a chance to mature.

And if that isn’t enough, entire species of trees are disappearing from the Sahel as a result of rising temperatures.

According to research published late in 2011, one in six trees across the entire Sahel region died during a 50-year period, based on aerial photographs dating from 1954 to 1989, field surveys of the same areas from 2000 to 2002 and high-definition satellite images taken in 2002.

The same study also found one in five of the Sahel’s tree species was extirpated from the region during the same time frame and that vegetation has been moving to the south, toward tropical West Africa.

The primary factor behind these changes was the warming trend in the region — not decreasing moisture, declining soil fertility and the increasing human population, lead reseacher Patrick Gonzalez said in an interview from Washington, D.C., where he’s in charge of the climate-change file at the U.S. National Parks Service.

Yet another example of how climate change is causing massive social upheaval not in some distant, sci-fi future — but  in the here and now.

Preview image via BigStockPhoto 

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