The Stream, January 10: Wildfires Contribute to Sahel Droughts, NASA Finds

The Global Rundown

The burning of forests and wetlands in Africa’s Sahel is likely contributing to droughts in the region, researchers found. Protests are brewing over a natural gas pipeline project in Texas, where opponents plan to follow the example set by the water defenders at Standing Rock. Water restrictions will begin this week for the capital of Mozambique due to low reservoir levels. The ongoing drought in Kenya could force energy officials to supplement hydropower generation with more expensive diesel. New York’s governor announced plans to close the Indian Point nuclear plant, linked to groundwater contamination last year, by 2021. Floods threatened the capital of California and forced evacuations near San Francisco.

“We’re going to follow the same model as Standing Rock. This is a huge historical moment for environmental issues, for protecting our water, protecting our land, protecting sacred sites and protecting treaties.” –Frankie Orona, executive director of the Society of Native Nations, on protests over a proposed natural gas pipeline in Texas that opponents say would harm the environment and sites sacred to Native American communities. (Guardian)

In context: Listen to Circle of Blue’s podcast discussing the significance of the Standing Rock protests and the role of grassroots movements for political change.

By The Numbers

14 percent full Current level of the Pequenos Libombos reservoir, the main water supply for Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. As a result, the city’s water utility announced Tuesday that it will restrict water pumping to alternate days, and that the cuts could last weeks or months if rains fail. All Africa

23 percent Potential increase in electricity prices, per kilowatt-hour, if Kenya is forced to use diesel generators to make up energy deficits caused by low hydropower levels, according to the country’s energy ministry. The current drought in Kenya has also jeopardized the food security of an estimated 1.3 million people. Reuters

3,000 people Number evacuated from a town near San Francisco as rivers flooded during heavy rains in California. Officials may open floodgates near Sacramento, the state capital, for the first time in a decade to contend with the excess water. Reuters

Science, Studies, And Reports

Wildfires set to convert forests and wetlands to farms may be contributing to droughts in the Sahel region of Africa, according to researchers at NASA. “There is a tendency for the net influence of fire to suppress precipitation in northern sub-Saharan Africa,” said Charles Ichoku, the study’s leader. Current results, however, can only confirm a correlation between fires and droughts, rather than evidence that fires directly cause the droughts. NASA

On The Radar

New York plans to close the Indian Point nuclear power station by the spring of 2021, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. A radioactive leak from the plant contaminated nearby groundwater a year ago, and dozens of safety concerns have been raised about its operation over the past five years. Guardian