Friday, July 20, 2012

Climate change in Kilimanjaro threatens to end an Indian dream

Unearth is a newly launched environmental news journal published from the United Nations, New York City. Shared here is my first story published in the journal. You can read the original story here.

This might spell bad news for the Indian film industry: Mount Kilimanjaro, considered by filmmakers as a picturesque location for song and dance sequences, is literally losing its cool status. The climate has been fast changing on the mountain, sending the mercury higher with every passing month and robbing the mountain of its fabled velvety green cover.

Song and dance sequences are a signature feature in Indian movies, and, often a film’s success at the box office is decided by its beautifully choreographed songs, shot at scenic locales. For decades, Switzerland topped the list of Indian filmmakers’ favorite locations. But now Kilimanjaro also features high on the list, with several chart buster songs being shot around the mountain.

According to Alok Bishnoi, a Mumbai-based actor and director, an Indian filmmaker looks at three factors before zeroing in on a spot for shooting a song: beautiful landscape, pollution-free air which provides good lighting, and a suitable climate. “It is common for a pair of lead actors to change costumes multiple times during a single song sequence
,” says Bishnoi. “
A mild climate helps a lot as the actors can wear anything fashionable and pretty. Kilimanjaro has those features

However, according to reports published by Tanzania Environment Journalists Association (TEJ), the temperature around Mount Kilimanjaro has been rising rapidly of late. The average temperature of the region used to be 27 degrees Celsius, but nowadays it is reported to be much higher. In recent weeks, Moshi town and Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) each recorded daily temperatures ranging between 33 and 36 degrees Celsius.

A major reason for this rise has been insufficient rainfall. Deodatus Mfugale, a member of the TEJ and a Climate Change Media Partnership fellow, explains that “streams and rivers have dried up all around Kilimanjaro forest, including Machame, Marangu, and Rongai. What one can see now is not even a quarter of the volume of water that used to flow down the streams.”

Mfugale, who visited Kilimanjaro this month, says that water level has gone down by nearly 100 meters in Lake Jipe and Nyumba ya Mungu Dam in Mwanga District of the region due to scanty rainfall and rising temperatures. The shortage of rainfall and the prolonged dry season have depleted natural vegetation and soil cover.

In recent years, Kilimanjaro has also seen massive deforestation which has contributed to rising temperatures. According to Professor Pius Yanda, a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), deforestation has not been addressed effectively and temperatures are set to rise even higher if deforestation is not solved soon.

In an effort to deal with the situation, the government has recently constituted the Kilimanjaro International Climate Change Centre – a body to hold consultations with various stakeholders and find ways to save the Kilimanjaro ecosystem. Headed by Professor Willy Makundi, who describes the environmental degradation in the region as “horrendous,” the center is proposing an immediate halt in logging activities and large-scale forestation program.

Mfugale says, “Meru and Kilimanjaro ecosystems are vital for the country’s economy. The area is the hub of tourist activity and the industry will be affected if the ecosystem collapses.”

One of the areas where big losses are likely to occur is inflow of foreign tourists, especially Indians. Taking note of the growing popularity of Bollywood films across the world, Tanzania recently started to woo Indian tourists under a new tourism promotion blitz dubbed “Think Asia,” that highlights cultural relations between the two countries.

“Indian films are very popular in our country,” says Lukiza Makubo, Marketing Manager for ML Tours and Safaris Ltd, Tanzania, whose company started a promotional drive in India in 2010. ”Shah Rukh Khan, Abhishek and Aishwarya (Indian actors) are very popular. It would be good to get more Indians to visit our country.”

According to Makubo, in the last year there has been a 50 percent increase in Indian tourist inflow to Tanzania. With over 15 million Indians visiting other countries each year (the World Tourism Organization has predicted that India will account for 50 million outbound tourists by 2020), it makes good business sense for operators like Makubo to target Indians.

A drastic change in its fabled climate, however, could lead filmmakers to move elsewhere with their entourage, encouraging fans to follow suit. Sanskrity Sinha, travel expert with the International Business Times says, “Unlike others, Indians are not famous for adventure tourism. When an Indian goes abroad, he rather looks for a lot of comfort and an idyllic spot. And, as a movie-crazy nation, we love to take pride in visiting places where some of our films have been shot. Taking photographs in those locations, posting them on social media is our favorite way to get instant fame.”

When in the famous “Kilimanjaro song,” celebrated Tamil actor Rajnikath sang, “I fly with the air/I’m the king of this forest/Oh! How intoxicating!” millions of his fans dreamed of being in the same forest. But with the vanishing trees and soaring temperatures, it may not be long before that intoxicating effect evaporates into the hot air.

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