Rain continues to evade the Horn of Africa

UK aid to help relieve the region experiencing its worst drought in six decades as global weather patterns change.

Kenya Drought


The worst drought in six decades has put over 10 million people at risk in the Horn of Africa [Save the Children]

The Horn of Africa is no stranger to dry spells, but this year has been exceptional where the worst drought in 60 years is affecting Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.

The British government is now promising to lead the world’s response with a $60 million contribution – a donation estimated to be enough to feed 1.3 million people for three months.

Andrew Mitchell, the secretary of International Development, says this would include 329,000 malnourished children and mothers.

The problems of the drought are being compounded by the conflict in Somalia, which has hampered aid efforts inside the country.

The drought is also helping to drive up food prices in the region, making matters even worse for its impoverished people.

In Kenya, the price of staples like maize, has increased over 27 per cent in the last three months. 

But this pales in comparison with a United Nations reports that says some food prices in neighbouring Somalia have gone up by as much as 270 per cent in the past year alone.

This region of Africa usually sees two rainy seasons a year: the first between March and May and the second in November and December.

The rains at the end of 2010 were well below average and this spring’s rainy season also failed to live up to expectations.

The current drought is thought to have been exacerbated by the conditions in the Pacific Ocean. Until recently, the surface waters of the Pacific were a little cooler than usual.

The change in temperatures was only small, at its maximum the drop was only about one and a half Celsius, but for the ocean this is a huge change, in fact one of the largest changes on record.

These conditions are known as La Nina, and they have significant effects on the weather around the globe.

In the last 15 months, La Nina has been responsible for some of the most destructive weather around the globe, including the severe flooding in Australia and Sri Lanka; and the severe winter in Northern Asia.

La Nina to blame

La Nina is also blamed for the rains across Uganda, Kenya and the Horn of Africa to be much lighter than usual and is the likely cause of 2010’s underwhelming showers.

Even now that the La Nina conditions have now eased and the waters of the Pacific Ocean have returned to normal, it will take a while for the global weather patterns to return to usual.

This poor performance of the spring rains mean that several million people in the region will face more food and nutritional insecurity until the second rainfalls towards the end of the year.

But will these rains later in the year be any better? New research from the University of California in Santa Barbara (UCSB) has concluded that rainfall will continue to be insufficient in the coming years.

Their studies found that as the global temperature has risen in recent years, the Indian Ocean had warmed faster than many other parts of the world.

As the ocean warms, so does the adjacent air, which rises and forms rain. These resulting rains, however, only fall over the ocean. As the air dries out, it then flows west over Africa and without any moisture ensures a drought persists in the east of the continent.

This would obviously have dire effects on the future of the region, but it flies in the face of the research by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which predicts that there will be more rain over East Africa, not less.

For the time being, the only significant rain expected in the region is likely to be over the Ethiopian Highlands but for the rest of the region, it could well be November before things improve.

Certainly the people living in the area are hoping the new research at the UCSB is flawed and that the rains recover soon.

Source: Al Jazeera