Devastating East Africa Droughts Caused by Volatile Climate



A devastating drought is threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions across an enormous swath of land in eastern Africa.  As governments and humanitarian groups seek to alleviate the suffering, observers warn an increasingly volatile climate means that portions of the region are becoming more and more inhospitable.  

The painfully persistent drought stretches across Somalia, Djibouti, southern Ethiopia, northern and eastern Kenya, and northeastern Uganda.  The World Food Program says its latest figures collected after the recent failed long rain season show that 23 million people are in need of emergency food relief, a marked increase from its previous numbers.

The World Food Program is describing the humanitarian situation as the worst in Somalia since 1991, and the worst drought-caused crisis in Kenya since 2000.

Historically, droughts are nothing new to these largely arid areas of the region, and the pastoral ethnic groups moving around these lands long ago learned how to prepare and recover from the normal drought cycle.

But the steady decline in rainfall in the region during the past two decades, combined with more frequent droughts and less predictable rainy seasons, have many worried that the current shortage of rainfall is not an isolated event but rather an indication of a new climate norm for the area.

Emergency relief regional leader for the U.S.-based aid group World Vision, Beatrice Teya, says climate shift in the region is especially alarming.

"The drought is becoming quite common, almost continuous, especially in the Horn of Africa, affecting Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and parts of Uganda," said Beatrice Teya. "Like right now it seems like it is peaking, but it is a continuous problem.  And I think this is the biggest challenge, because it is not giving communities time to recover.

The increasingly hostile climate has left the populations in a bitter struggle, not just against daily hunger, malnutrition, and thirst, but also in an annual struggle to maintain their ancient ways of life.

For the pastoral communities that live in the area, their nomadic cattle-centered livelihood is becoming increasingly untenable.  Analysts worry of the consequences if the changing climate steadily erodes the foundation of these peoples' society.

On Tuesday 32 people were killed, including women and children, during a cattle raid in northern Kenya between pastoral tribes.  These raids are traditionally used as a means of replenishing diminished cattle stocks, and many fear that disappearing water resources and pasture grounds will be the root of increased instability in the region during the coming years.

But some say such skirmishes could be just one of the minor side effects of a much larger long-term catastrophe.

Eastern Africa Environmental Network Deputy Director George Malakwen portrays a possible horror scenario of massive hordes of displaced people with nowhere to go, if the current trends continue unabated.

"We are going to see what I can term as environmental refugees - people getting out of eastern Africa, but I do not know where they are going to go," said George Malakwen. "If this thing is so expansive - up to Sudan, up to Ethiopia, down south - where are they going to go?  That is what we are going to experience here, that eastern Africa is not going to be hospitable to human beings."

This recent round of drought has been made worse by inflated food prices across the affected region.  Food prices in Kenya continue to sit at 100 to 130 percent greater than their normal levels.

It is not just the local East Africans that are faltering under the economic weight of the crisis.  The World Food Program says it projects it will need nearly $1 billion for the next six months to meet the needs of the region.  It says its program cycle in Kenya has underfunded by 92 percent.

World Food Program Spokesman Peter Smerdon says lack of funding combined with the increased frequency of emergency food crises have meant that the deeper-rooted issues in these communities have been allowed to fester.

"What you need of course in all these places is long-term development," said Peter Smerdon. "The difficulty is when you have crises like these, that takes a lot of money to just simply keep people alive, and that is what we have to do at the moment, and we are struggling to do that.  When there is not a crisis, there is not enough money around for long-term development."

Smerdon predicts that things are about to get worse for the region's population in the coming months, though not for reasons one might think.

El Nino storms are expected to bring heavy rainfall to the parched lands beginning as early as October.  Although many, not surprisingly, see the expected rains as upcoming relief, Smerdon says such an outlook is just "wishful thinking."

He says the sick cattle are likely to die from cold in the heavy torrents, whereas the scorched farming ground will be overtaken by floods.  Malaria and cholera outbreaks are also feared.

Malakwen says he too expects El Nino rains to only exacerbate the crisis.

"God forbid, but we are expecting major catastrophes," he said.

The region's residents are learning that such cruel tricks of nature are now what they might have to learn to expect.   

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs