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September 2005
Africa: The Human Footprint
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Each square kilometer on the map is colored to reflect its human-influence score. The range, from dark green to purple, indicates rising levels of human activity.
For the first time, a father irrigates a patch of earth and gains the chance to feed his family; a mother flips a switch and lights her home at night; a newly paved road links villagers to a wider world. Such firsts change life for the better—and distinctly alter the landscape.
Shaping the land to serve human needs is a cornerstone of civilization. During the past century humanity's imprint on the planet has spread faster than at any time in history. To illustrate the relationship between people and the Earth, scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Earth Institute at Columbia University have created the Human Footprint map. It measures four key categories that reveal human influence: population, land use (such as agriculture), electrical grids, and road-and-rail networks.
Compared with Asia and Europe, the human tread on Africa is relatively light. But zoom in on this massive continent, and you'll see the intricate patterns spun by 900 million people. These patterns are changing rapidly. In roughly the time it takes to read this paragraph, ten babies will be born in Nigeria, five acres (two hectares) of forest will fall in Zambia, and three new homes will rise in South Africa. Each small step has its consequence—whether benign or lethal—for the land and those who share it. By showing where the wild places are, the Human Footprint Project can help people anticipate those consequences and walk more carefully toward the future.

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Credits: Illustration by Human Footprint Project © Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) 2005. Project leads: Eric Sanderson, Kent Redford (WCS); Marc Levy (CIESIN). GIS analysts: Gillian Woolmer, Gosia Bryja, Jessica Forrest (WCS); Antoinette Wannebo, Malanding Jaiteh (CIESIN). Funding: Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC) at Columbia University, ESRI Conservation Program, Prospect Hill Foundation.
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