Uganda

Niall MartinRTÉ's Niall Martin reports on the retreat of snow from Ugandan mountains

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Cameraman James Ewen, who films wildlife for National Geographic in Uganda, accompanied me into the Rwenzori mountain park.

He is very familiar with the mountains on the equator, which were named the Mountains of the Moon by 2nd Century geographer Ptolemy. Ptolemy never saw the mountains and it wasn't until the explorer Stanley and his team were in the area in 1889 that the peaks were officially mapped.

The highest peak is Margherita. At 5,109 metres (16,761 ft), it is the third highest peak in Africa, and takes a round trip of ten days to get up to the top and back.

Unlike Kilimanjaro in Kenya, the Rwenzori's are a climb not a trek, with snow capped peaks and glaciers.

James uses crampons on the snow and ice towards the top, but he may not have much use for the climbing gear much longer.

The guides say that every time they go to the top there's less snow and ice cover. James reports that electric blue coloured lobelia's are now growing from the rocks, which were once covered in snow and ice.

Half of the glacier has melted since 1987 and English scientist Richard Taylor says the ice will be gone within 15 years.

Mountain ranger Solomon helps track the ice movement for the scientists, by simply pushing a bamboo into the ice as far down as it will go and measuring the depth. When he returns on his next visit he measures the depth again.

Glaciers are always on the move, but what's at issue is the lack of ice to replace that which has melted and run off down the icy rivers.

Several of the mountain guides feel that rich countries should help pay for measures to reduce the effects of climate change in Africa.

But Prof Rugumayo Chancellor of the local Mountains of the Moon University says it is up to Africa to take the first steps and demonstrate measures that work before looking for money from the rest of the world.

Walking through the national park, one guide confided to me that it was rather embarrassing for him to see local people burning down trees to grow crops on the slopes.

There was also another sign of the impact of climate change in the Rwenzori area - mosquitoes.

Ten years ago they weren't seen in the area. Being higher up it was a cooler climate, but now the mosquitoes are everywhere and malaria is a real danger for local people, with children particularly at risk of death.

So what will happen when the snow and ice on the mountains melt?

The melt waters feed rivers that help irrigate half of Uganda, so there could well be severe drought.

Another possibility is that the precipitation that fell as snow would instead fall as rain, washing away mountain soil and create landslides.

Flood waters, however, may be more difficult to control.

Niall Martin, Uganda