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

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