News / Africa

Experts: La Niña, Climate Change Impact East African Drought

Scientists concerned about future effects

Somalis fleeing hunger in their drought-stricken nation walk along the main road leading from the Somalian border to the refugee camps around Dadaab, Kenya, July 13, 2011. More than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa are confronting the worst drought
Somalis fleeing hunger in their drought-stricken nation walk along the main road leading from the Somalian border to the refugee camps around Dadaab, Kenya, July 13, 2011. More than 11 million people in the Horn of Africa are confronting the worst drought

Multimedia

Audio

Experts say the Pacific ocean phenomenon known as La Niña is partly to blame for the drought ravaging the Horn of Africa.

But while the latest La Niña episode has ended, climate scientists are concerned about what the next few months will bring and the intensifying effects of a changing global climate.  

La Niña begins when eastern Pacific waters near the equator turn cooler than normal. A cascade of changes in ocean temperatures and wind currents follows, and the consequences are global.

Droughts and floods

The latest episode began in July of last year.

In the United States, altered winds pushed moisture away from the south, causing severe droughts that persist today, and toward the north, causing floods.

Half the world away, flooding in Australia this winter was also linked to La Niña, experts say.

And in Africa, "The easterly winds that are supposed to bring moisture into East Africa [were] reduced," says meteorologist Wassila Thiaw, head of the Africa desk at the U.S. National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center. "There was less moisture coming into East Africa and therefore rainfall is reduced."

Rains that were supposed to fall over Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya late last year failed.

Lost rainy season

The second rainy season in that part of the Horn of Africa, from March through May, failed, too, but for different reasons, he says.  

"What played out here during the March-April-May season, we don't think that is really La Niña, but it probably mostly due to the atmospheric conditions that prevailed at that time."

He says La Niña's influence on the March-through-May rainy season typically is not as strong as on the October-through-December season. Natural variations in atmospheric conditions were enough to prolong the drought, he says.

Rainy season threatened

This La Niña episode ended in May. But Thiaw says there is a chance another one may begin by the end of this year.

"If that happens before the October-through-December rainfall season, then there's a high chance for us to be in another dryer-than- normal season," he says

That could be catastrophic for drought-stricken parts of East Africa, he says. But he cautions it is too soon to say whether it will happen, or how severe it would be.

Climate change?

La Niña and the related phenomenon called El Niño are natural cycles that happen every 3 to 5 years or so. Man-made contributions to global warming - auto and industrial greenhouse-gas emissions, for example -- are a concern, too. But climate scientist Simon Mason at Columbia University's International Research Institute for Climate and Society says the human factor in the Horn’s climate woes is less clear.

"East Africa is one of our big perplexing areas for the moment," Mason says.

Several groups around the world have developed computer models to predict how increasing greenhouse gases will change the climate.

"Most of the models are actually suggesting that East Africa will become wetter," Mason says. "However, if we look at what's been happening in East Africa at least for the last decade or so, it's actually been getting quite a lot drier."

Mason says that drying trend is at least partly due to global warming, which is contributing to rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean. That creates conditions that draw moisture away from East Africa.

'Need to do a bit of work'

However, current computer models do not capture this effect very well, Mason says. "So we need to do a bit of work there to work out what our models are possibly doing wrong."

Others question whether climate change is responsible for the trend. The National Weather Service's Wassila Thiaw says temperatures are rising in the region, but attributing this drought to climate change is difficult because there is so much natural variability in the weather patterns.

But experts say in terms of food production, it does not make that much difference whether it gets wetter or drier because it is sure to get hotter. They may not be sure about rainfall, but they are confident temperatures in East Africa will continue to go up.

Thirstier crops

Hotter weather means thirstier crops, according to agriculture economist Claudia Ringler at the International Food Policy Research Institute.

"So you actually need more water to get the same out of the crop at a higher temperature," she says.

Ringler notes that much of the land in drought-stricken East Africa is not very productive in the best of times. And, she adds, "it will not get any better. Even if we have a bit more rainfall, the general potential for food production in the region is not expected to improve dramatically in the region."

Furthermore, when the rain falls is in some ways as important as how much. Climate change tends to promote more heavy downpours with longer dry stretches in between. That is not good for raising crops, either, she says.

So Ringer adds that farmers and herders in East Africa need help becoming more resilient in the face of looming climate changes, whatever they turn out to be.

You May Like

Video Indiana Controversy Points to Divergent Notions of Religious Freedom

Gay-marriage opponents are looking for ways to maintain their beliefs in face of changing culture, one writer says More

UNICEF Denies North Korean Measles Outbreak

Agency dismisses Russian media report after government, WHO assurances More

Turkey Seen Taking Harder Stance Against Militant Kurds

Stance comes as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is being seen as moving closer to generals 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.
Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedomi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
April 01, 2015 1:41 AM
Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Indiana Controversy Highlights Divergent Meanings of Religious Freedom

Indiana’s state government has triggered a nationwide controversy by approving a law that critics say is aimed at allowing discrimination against gays and lesbians. The controversy stems from divergent notions of religious freedom in America. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Nigerians Welcome Buhari's Return to Power

Crowds of jubilant Nigerians nationwide have celebrated the return to power of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari. The retired army general won this year's presidential election with more than 2 million votes more than incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan. Buhari's supporters hope he can strengthen the country's economy and security once he takes office in late May. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Report: State of Black America a 'Tale of Two Nations'

The National Urban League has described this year's "State of Black America" report as a "tale of two nations." The group's annual report, released earlier this month (March), found that under an equality index African Americans had only 72% parity compared to whites in areas such as education, economics, health, social justice and civic engagement. It’s a gap that educators and students at Brooklyn’s Medgar Evers College are looking to close. VOA's Daniela Schrier reports from the school.
Video

Video Film Tells Story of Musicians in Mali Threatened by Jihadists

At this year's annual South by Southwest film and music festival in Austin, Texas, some musicians from Mali were on hand to promote a film about how their lives were upturned by jihadists who destroyed ancient treasures in the city of Timbuktu and prohibited anyone from playing music under threat of death. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin, some are afraid to return to their hometowns even though the jihadists are no longer in control there.
Video

Video Gamma Ray Observatory to Open Soon in Mexico

American and Mexican scientists have completed construction of the world's largest gamma ray observatory, situated high in central Mexico’s Sierra Negra Mountain. The observatory's huge array of water-based detectors will soon start discovering secrets about black holes and supernovas. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials Underway in West Africa

Ebola has claimed the lives of more than 10,000 people in West Africa. Since last summer, researchers have rushed to get anti-Ebola vaccines into clinical trials. While it's too early to say that any of the potential vaccines work, some scientists say they are seeing strong results from some of the studies. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video Philippines Wants Tourists Spending Money at New Casinos

Tourism is a multi-billion dollar industry in the Philippines. Close to five million foreign visitors traveled there last year, perhaps lured by the country’s tropical beaches. But Jason Strother reports from Manila that the country hopes to entice more travelers to stay indoors and spend money inside new casinos.
Video

Video Civilian Casualties Push Men to Join Rebels in Ukraine

The continued fighting in eastern Ukraine and the shelling of civilian neighborhoods seem to be pushing more men to join the separatist fighters. Many of the new recruits are residents of Ukraine made bitter by new grievances, as well as old. VOA's Patrick Wells reports.
Video

Video Islamic State Prisoners Talk of Curiosity, God, Regret

Islamic State fighter, a prisoner of Kurdish YPG forces, asked his family asking for forgiveness: "I destroyed myself and I destroyed them along with me." The Syrian youth was one of two detainees who spoke to VOA’s Kurdish Service about the path they chose; their names have been changed and identifying details obscured. VOA's Zana Omer reports.
Video

Video Germanwings Findings Raise Issue of Psychological Testing for Pilots

More is being discovered about the co-pilot in the crash of Germanwings Flight 9525 in the French Alps. Investigators say he was hiding a medical condition, raising questions about the mental qualifications of pilots. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.
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.

VOA Blogs

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