TWN Info Service on Climate Change (Jul11/01)
Climate refugees are streaming from
The drought conditions have most severely affected
pastoralists and their animals, with the largest impacts in regions
Pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in the region are increasingly at risk from climate change. More frequent droughts, including a recent drought in 2008-2009, have reduced overall livestock holdings, decreasing the protein and milk available to families. For the animals that remain now, milk productivity is low, contributing further to malnutrition among the affected populations.
To compound the already dire situation, grain
prices are skyrocketing throughout the region. Red sorghum in
For those pastoralists and agro-pastoralists who still have animals to sell, due to low prices of livestock and increases in the price of grain, their terms of trade have significantly decreased - the 90-kilogram sack of maize they used to purchase for one or two goats now costs five. Lack of food, animals, or purchasing power is driving tens of thousands of climate refugees to migrate in search of food, water and pasture.
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in a report released on 10 June, estimates that overall food security conditions across the region will continue to deteriorate in the coming months, with no likelihood of improvement until early 2012 - if the rains return in October.
Present estimates of vulnerable populations are
3.5 million in
Meteorologists are blaming the drought on a La
Nina event - a periodic shift in global precipitation patterns that
among other changes can dramatically reduce rainfall in eastern Africa
(and that is also responsible for the record rains and massive flooding
The more significant rains of March to June (known
as the ‘long rains' in
But to blame the drought on La Nina is to miss
an important underlying cause – the slowly changing global climate that
is drying out eastern
Professors Park Williams and Chris Funk from the University of California at Santa Barbara have been calling attention to the steady decrease in the region's long rains during the last thirty years (35-45% below normal), associated with the steady increase in sea surface temperatures of the Indian Ocean due to increasing global temperatures.
Higher sea surface temperatures have led to changes
in precipitation patterns so that rain now falls over the
Exacerbating the consequences of decreased rainfall is the fact that with higher air temperatures, water evaporates more quickly from land. For this reason, droughts under climate change are expected to be more frequent and more intense – what scientists are calling "global-change-type droughts."
According to the most recent analysis of the World
Meteorological Organization, the year 2010 was the hottest year on record
The countries in east
Even more alarming than the millions likely to be affected by the drought before the end of the year is the prediction that droughts like this one will become more common under climate change. As the atmosphere warms further, soil moisture levels will decline.
Scientists expect that the African continent will warm more, and more quickly, than the global average, with 1.5 times the global average warming expected.
Rainfall is expected to diminish over much of
So even though the atmosphere will hold more moisture, when the rain falls, it will not necessarily translate into precipitation useful for farmers.
And in the Horn of Africa, according to the
As they concluded in a scientific paper published
earlier this year specifically about the human fingerprint on droughts
(* Doreen Stabinsky is Professor of Global Environmental
Politics at College of the Atlantic in