News / Africa

Does Indian Ocean Hold Key to East Africa Drought?

Somali women and children from southern Somalia wait in the rain with some basic rations at a displaced camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, July 15, 2011
Somali women and children from southern Somalia wait in the rain with some basic rations at a displaced camp in Mogadishu, Somalia, July 15, 2011
Joe DeCapua

In East Africa, droughts are occurring more frequently, putting millions of people at risk. But while not much can done to prevent droughts, more can be done to understand them and adapt to their effects.

Ocean temperature and dry air

Scientist Chris Funk said a drought is not simply due to a lack of rain over a long period, but also a greater demand on limited water resources by a growing population.

Funk is a research geographer with the U.S. Geological Survey and is on staff at California’s University of Santa Barbara Geography Department. He says droughts in East Africa have been occurring more frequently over the past 20 years.

Earlier this year, he co-wrote an article for Climate Dynamics that proposed a link between what happens in the Indian Ocean and what happens in East Africa.

“It really seems as if the warming of the central and southern Indian Ocean is contributing to more frequent droughts and intensification of the impacts of things like la Nina,” he said.

La Nina and El Nino are phenomena causing a rise or fall in ocean temperatures. Funk says the rise in temperature may seem small, but has a big effect.

“It’s warmed about a degree over the last 30 or 40 years and maybe about half a degree over the last 20. But the reason that it’s important is that it’s already really, really warm. And so, as far as we can tell, that warming has triggered more rainfall over the central Indian Ocean. And that rainfall basically pulls in moisture from the surrounding area and prevents it from going onshore into Africa,” he said.

Funk said, at the same time, that rainfall over the Indian Ocean is associated with hot stable air over parts of East Africa that reduces rainfall there.

“The sea surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean are really well correlated with global temperatures. So, the past 150 years, as far as we can tell, the Indian Ocean has gone up and down very closely with global temperatures. I’m not sure that we fully understand why that is, but it seems to be an area that as we’re experiencing global warming the Indian Ocean is warming up right in step with that,” he said.

Fueling those higher temperatures in the Indian Ocean is something called the Tropical Warm Pool, a concentration of very warm water. It’s located around Indonesia. Over the past 30 years, it has extended further and further.

Funk said that could mean more droughts, more often for parts of East Africa. However, it may also mean that some other areas may get greener.

“In central and eastern Kenya, it looks like the rainfall is decreasing. But as you go towards Lake Victoria, the rain there has remained steady. And so there’s a lot of opportunity for developing agricultural resources in the west that won’t be affected by climate change. And a similar situation exists in Ethiopia, comparing the north versus the south,” he said.

Areas where rains remain steady or actually increase could become breadbaskets for the region. Funk and others are working with USAID, the U.S. development agency, to make use of the rainfall patterns.

Funk said, “There are a lot of places and opportunities where you could raise crop yields substantially. And that would go a long way to relieving the problem.”

Funk and other scientists are part of FEWSNET, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network. FEWSNET issued a report a year ago warning that both short and long rains could fail. By May of this year, it was clear the situation had become very serious.

Some disagree

Not all agree with Funk and his colleagues that a rise in Indian Ocean temperatures means more droughts.

“For example,” he said, “if you look at the climate model simulations produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they actually suggest that it’s going to get wetter in east Africa. Their projections are for 2080. So, they’re pretty far out.”

U.N. humanitarian officials estimate 11.6 million people need emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa. They say $2 billion is needed to pay for it. So far, $1 billion has been committed. Two parts of Somalia, Bakool and Lower Shabelle, are now facing famine.

You May Like

Philippines, Muslim Rebels Try to Salvage Peace Pact

Peace process faces major setback after botched military operation to find terrorists results in bloody gunbattle between government forces, Moro Islamic Liberation Front fighters More

Republicans Expect Long, Expensive Presidential Battle

Political strategist says eventual winner will be one who can put together strongest coalition of various conservative groups that make up Republican Party More

Video New Wheelchair Is Easier to Use, Increases Mobility

Engineers have come up with a lever-operated design that makes use of easily accessible bicycle technology More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
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.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More