The latest report from the US Agency for International Development’s Famine and Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) warns that the March-to-May rainy season for the Horn of Africa–also known as the “long rains”–is likely to perform poorly again this year. The agency is calling for humanitarian organizations to “immediately implement programs to protect livelihoods and household food consumption.”
In 2011, the region suffered one of the worst drought-related food crises in decades, after a series of failed rainy seasons that began in 2010. Poor rainfall coupled with political instability and economic issues resulted in ten million people going hungry, 50,000-100,000 dead, and millions being displaced across international borders.
While the “short rains” this past October to December were generally plentiful and brought some drought relief to the region, the long rains are, as in 2011, off to a bad start: rainfall last month measured well below average in many areas of the Horn [see map].
“Unfortunately, current ocean conditions suggest that the poor performance of the long rains is likely to continue,” says Bradfield Lyon, a climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, who provided FEWS NET with some of the climate analyses for its report. “This is in keeping with a recurrent pattern we’ve been seeing in East Africa over roughly the last decade,” he says.
In January, Lyon and his IRI colleague David DeWitt published a paper showing that drought has become more frequent during the long rainy season in East Africa, following an abrupt decline in rainfall around 1999. Using observations and climate model simulations, they linked the decreased East African rainfall to similarly abrupt changes in sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
We’ll post a video interview soon in which Lyon provides more details on the climate factors involved. Last year, IRI produced a series of short videos on the East Africa drought and its impacts, viewable here: http://vimeo.com/album/1662641
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