A sheep, overcome by heat and drought, lies dead in the Oromiya Region of Ethiopia, 2011. Andrew Heavens / sahelblog.wordpress.com

By Julio Godoy
26 August 2011

Paris (IPS) — The severe drought in the Horn of Africa, which has caused the death of at least 30,000 children and is affecting some 12 million people, especially in Somalia, is a direct consequence of weather phenomena associated with climate change and global warming, environmental scientists say.

"The present drought in the Horn of Africa has been provoked by El Niño and La Niña phenomena in the Pacific Ocean, which unsettle the normal circulation of warm and cold water and air, and dislocate the humidity conditions across the southern hemisphere," Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, senior scientist at the German Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK, after its German name), told IPS. […]

Such conditions can particularly affect regions north of the Equator, such as the Horn of Africa. Some 12 million people are facing starvation across the region, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan and parts of Uganda, besides Somalia. So far, famine has only been declared in Somalia, a state without a functioning government.

"El Niño and La Niña exacerbate the weather conditions across the southern hemisphere, escalating the rainy season in some areas, especially in Asia and Australia, and droughts in others, especially in Africa," Gerstengarbe said.

Gerstengarbe says climate change and the rising global temperatures caused by it have intensified both El Niño and La Niña, leading to severe floods in Pakistan and Australia, and drought in the Horn of Africa.

Both phenomena have led during the last two years to particularly dry rainy seasons and to extreme hot temperatures over East Africa. […]

The phenomenon leads to hotter temperatures in East Africa. Both the suppression of rain and the higher temperatures this year have caused the worst drought in the Horn of Africa for 60 years.

"Unfortunately, due to the intensification of La Niña, we must reckon with growing desertification in Africa, and with more droughts in the region around the Horn of Africa," Gerstengarbe added.

Jean-Cyril Dagorn, in charge of environment and economic justice for the French branch of the humanitarian organisation Oxfam, concurred that climate change and global warming are exacerbating extreme weather conditions in Africa.

"For two years, rain precipitation has been below average in East Africa, due to La Niña," Dagorn told IPS. "But this year, the drought has been extreme, provoking the present humanitarian catastrophe in Somalia and other adjacent regions."

Dagorn said that the coming rainy season, scheduled to start in October, may intensify the crisis. "Torrential rain falling on extreme dry earth will wash away the most fertile soil, making the food crisis even more dramatic," Dagorn warned.

Dagorn said droughts have so far occurred every five to seven years in the Horn of Africa, but almost never with the extreme conditions of today.

"We estimate that due to climate change and the droughts it causes, agricultural productivity in the region will fall by up to 20 percent in the coming decades, especially in the maize and bean plantations," Dagorn said. […]

In July, the head of the United States agency for international development, Rajiv Shah, said that climate change has contributed to the severity of the crisis.

"There's no question that hotter and drier growing conditions in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced the resiliency of these communities," Shah told U.S. media. "The change in climate has contributed to this problem, without question."

Africa: Global Warming Behind Somali Drought

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