Speech by Mr. Timothy Sirma, EBS, Provincial Commissioner Coast Province at the Opening Ceremony of the African GAIM Modelling Workshop on Monday, March 3, 1997 @ 9:00 am at the Whitesands Hotel, Mombasa, KENYA

Professor Berrien Moore, Chairman IGBP/GAIM, Professor Wandera Ogana, Secretary, Kenya National Academy of Sciences, distinguished scientists and guests, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to be with you today on the occasion of the opening of the African GAIM Modelling Workshop, scientists love acronyms. I am made to understand that IGBP stands for International Geosphere Biosphere Programme and GAIM stands for Global Analysis Interpretation and Modelling.

This Workshop, I have been informed, has drawn participants from 20 African countries, which are geographically spread throughout the continent. Furthermore, the workshop involves resource persons from several African countries, from the United States of America and from Europe. Ladies and gentlemen, some of you must have traveled long distances and many hours in order to come to Mombasa for this event. Without your participation the workshop would not have taken place. On behalf of the people of Kenya, in general, and the Coast Province, in particular, I extend a warm welcome to you all.

Mr. Chairman, I understand that the major objective of the workshop is to expand, within Africa, the capability to develop and use global environmental change models, with emphasis on models applicable to carbon and nutrient cycling in the terrestrial ecosystems and to water cycling and management.

The workshop could not have come at a more opportune time, and to a more appropriate place. Kenya and several eastern African countries are currently facing a severe drought which has led to considerable stress on soil nutrients and vegetation growth. The result has been an adverse effect on water availability and food production.

"Global Change", in the scientific sense embraces changes in the Earth's atmospheric, biological, geological and hydrological systems. Such changes have always taken place throughout the history of the Earth, as paleo studies have revealed. Our concern, however, is that today the changes are occurring more rapidly than at any other time in human history and we are witnessing global change of a magnitude never witnessed before. The rapid changes are occurring largely as a result of human activities in the effort to provide food and comfort to an ever-increasing population. The stress on the natural resources systems is indeed quite great.

Although the contributions by nations to this rapid global change vary in degree according to their industrialization and consumer economy levels, all nations must share responsibility in causing this global change. It follows therefore that all nations need to work together in the search for technologies, policies and measures for mitigating global change. Such a search will necessarily involve using inadequate data to try and understand the stress on the Earth system arising for global change, the data is regarded as inadequate because changes on the Earth have been taking place over millions of years and yet reliable measured data is available only for the past several hundred years. Modelling plays a crucial role in the attempt to utilize this inadequate data in order to understand the impact of global change. I am glad to not, therefore, that the workshop which begins today focuses on modelling and that it has brought together scientists form many countries in Africa and from several continents. Global environmental change knows no geographical boundaries as has clearly been shown by the transitional effects of pollutants emitted into the atmosphere.

Mr. Chairman, in the investigation of global change, it is imperative that scientists maintain close contact with the problems of immediate interest to their surrounding. Take for instance, what I have mentioned before, namely that there is currently a severe drought in some eastern African countries. This drought was preceded by a number of years of unusual rain patterns. Another case in point is a weed known as the water hyacinth, which has been in the news quite a lot recently, as those of you who come from East Africa may be aware. This weed emerged in Lake Victoria a number of years back and it is threatening to unleash considerable ecological damage to the lake. Lake Victoria, for you information, is an important ecosystem and a source of livelihood for may countries, namely Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, and beyond. Closer to home, a number of lakes in Kenya are experiencing considerably reduced water levels, most notable Lake Nakuru, which supports hundreds of thousands of flamingoes. The questions which global change scientists from this region ought to ask themselves are therefore rather obvious to me. Such questions could be:

How do these changes fit in the general pattern of global environmental changes? Are they simply minor fluctuations which will return to their previous levels after some years?

What is the effect of global change on fisheries, wildlife and other resources? What will be the general effect on food production?

How will global change affect the distribution of insect vectors and other disease-carrying agents?

Mr. Chairman, this is not to underrate the significance of the other areas in global change studies. They are very important. I simply want to stress the need for maintaining relevance in defining research priorities. Ladies and gentlemen, you have come from different countries and I believe you countries are equally beautiful. But let me assure you that Kenya has the best and most varied combination of marine and wildlife species, a breathtaking coastline and a land of great scenic beauty. I hope this description will persuade you not to spend all you time on modelling in Whitesands Hotel, but that you will find an opportunity to take a tour around the coast, and inland if possible. You must indeed sample the diversity which nature has endowed this country.

In conclusion, let me congratulate the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme/Global Analysis, Interpretation and Modelling and the Kenya National Academy of Sciences for organizing this workshop. I wish you productive and fruitful deliberations.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my pleasure to declare this workshop officially open.

Thank you.


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