Monday, 20 March 2017

East Africa: Climate Change Causes Frequent Droughts

Source: "Stark pictures show a ravaged land and desperate people as Somalia and East Africa face new famine". UN (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)), 8th March 2017

Somalia is facing its third famine in 25 years. As crops fail and livestock collapse, people are already recalling with fear the famine of 2011 when nearly 260,000 people died. This time, more than 6 million – or around half the total population – are in need of aid.

Image 1: Pastoralists in the Ufeyn region of Puntland are walking further and further to find water for their livestock.

Somalia is facing its third famine in 25 years. As crops fail and livestock collapse, people are already recalling with fear the famine of 2011 when nearly 260,000 people died. This time, more than 6 million – or around half the total population – are in need of aid.

“People are dying. The world must act now to stop this,” said Secretary General António Guterres in a tweet shortly after arriving in the capital Mogadishu to see the situation first hand.

The drought is a major priority for Somalia’s incoming and first democratically elected government and is unfolding amid widespread poverty and long-term internal conflict.

Image 2: Caption: One of the last camels left alive after drought sweeps a pastoralist community in Yadan Yobil, Puntland. Photo: @WFP/K Dhanji

Somalia is one of four countries – including Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen – for which the UN has launched a US$4 billion appeal to avert famine. But the effects of drought are being felt all across the east coast of Africa – from Ethiopia, where failed rains have affected 80% of the country’s crops, to South Sudan, which has already become the first country in five years to declare an official famine; and from Kenya, which has declared a national emergency, to Zimbabwe and even South Africa.

Image 3: Caption: Women and children at a newly created informal settlement in Baidoa. Children, women and the elderly are often the most affected during periods of drought and food insecurity. Photo: @WFP/K Dhanji

The effects of climate change

The current drought is the region’s severest in decades, but it is far from unprecedented. In fact, climate change is making frequent droughts almost inevitable.

In pre-1970s Kenya, there was a serious drought around once every ten years. By the 1980s, this had doubled to once every five years. Today, there are droughts almost every other year.

Kenya’s meteorological office has confirmed the signs of climate change – including measurable changes in the seasons and more sporadic and unpredictable rain, leaving farmers unsure when to plant their crops in order to catch the rains when they do come.

Most Africans are extremely vulnerable to these changes, since an estimated 70% rely on rain-fed agriculture.

Image 4: Caption: Aerial view of a dry riverbed and the arid landscape between Dollow and Wajid in southern Somalia, taken from an UNHAS humanitarian aircraft in February.  Photo: @WFP/K Dhanji

Things are set to get worse. Temperatures are predicted to rise in Africa by 2 degrees or more by 2050 and by as much as 6 degrees by 2100. The continent also faces higher levels of rising seas than the global average.

These changes will put ever-more lives at risk and have a devastating effect on inland farming and coastal economies.

A web of problems

In some countries, conflict is a major cause of hunger, such as in South Sudan, where the famine is fiercest in areas with fighting. But in all affected countries, climate change is making things a lot worse and fuelling a vicious cycle. Extreme temperatures, reduced rainfall, land degradation and falling yields lead to greater competition for the remaining fertile land and accessible water – and this in turn brings greater conflict.

Image 5: Caption: Pastoralists dig trenches to prevent soil erosion and create water catchment areas as part of a WFP programme in Jabaaque, Somaliland. Drought has affected the north in the last two years, affecting farmland, water reserves and pastureland for livestock.  Photo: @WFP/K Dhanji

We are also seeing fundamental changes in local ecosystem. For example, Acacia trees now store more water in their trunks and roots rather than in their branches, reducing food supplies for giraffes. These kinds of changes also threaten livestock and food crops.

As ecosystems come under increasing stress, global experts – including UN Environment’s Chief Scientist – predict that we may be reaching a “tipping point” from which it will be hard to reverse the catastrophic effects of climate change.

Image 6; Caption: Pastoralists who have lost the majority of their livestock and livelihoods register for assistance with WFP in Iskushuban, Puntland.  Photo: @WFP/K Dhanji

New approaches

The effects of climate change are here to stay and we need fresh ways of dealing with this new reality. These include changing the way people farm to make it sustainable and drought proof, boosting farm profits with green technology for storing and processing crops, and diversifying away from traditional pastoral farming to give people back-up options.

UN Environment is at the forefront of helping governments design policies to increase resilience and protect citizens against natural disasters. We are also helping to bring the latest technology to bear for farmers to adapt to climate change.

Across Africa, we have been looking at environmental trends as part of the Global Environmental Outlook Regional Assessment, which includes Somalia. We are also promoting energy security and more resilient livelihoods by reducing the unsustainable production, trade and use of charcoal.

In Kenya, we have helped produce apps that link farmers to markets by connecting them with businesses who can offer cheap loans. We are also bringing the private sector, government and farmers together to pilot farms that use green technology to boost yields and reduce emissions.

About UN Environment

UN Environment as the leading global environmental authority sets the global environmental agenda and promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development. For over 40 years, UN Environment has been supporting countries to promote smart environmental laws, policies, and strengthen institutional frameworks. UN Environment also builds capacities of judiciaries and other legal stakeholders at global, regional and national levels.

For more information, please contact:

Michal Szymanski, UN Environment, +254 715 876 185, unepnewsdesk [at]