Global warming made Horn of Africa drought possible, according to new report

A drought-ridden landscape
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A devastating drought that has struck the Horn of Africa could not have occurred without global warming. This is according to a new report from an international team of climate scientists.

A summary of the report by the World Weather Attribution (WWA) group stated that:

Human-caused climate change has made agricultural drought in the Horn of Africa about 100 times more likely.

It also added that:

The ongoing devastating drought would not have happened at all without the effect of greenhouse gas emissions.

20 million at risk of food insecurity

The Horn of Africa is made up of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan. Since late 2020 it has have been suffering the worst drought in 40 years. The extended drought has led to the deaths of millions of heads of cattle, and has wiped out crops.

The WWA study concentrated on the three areas worst hit by the drought. These were southern Ethiopia, Somalia, and eastern Kenya.

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According to the 19 scientists who contributed to the WWA report, climate change had little effect on total annual rainfall in the region. However:

higher temperatures have significantly increased evaporation from soil and plants, which has made dry soils much more likely.

The summary added that:

Without this effect, the region would not have experienced agricultural drought – when crops and pastures are affected by dry conditions – over the last two years…

Instead, widespread crop failures and livestock deaths have left more than 20 million people at risk of acute food insecurity.

Opposing trends

The WWA explained their findings:

They found that climate change is affecting the rainfall periods in opposite ways. The long rains are becoming drier, with low rainfall now about twice as likely, while the short rains are becoming wetter due to climate change.

This wettening trend in the short rains has been masked recently by the La Nina weather pattern, which reduces rainfall in the short rains.

Joyce Kimutai, a Kenyan climatologist who contributed to the report, told Agence France-Presse that:

It is time we act and engage differently. Central to this process is to transform and enhance resilience of our systems.

We need to innovate across and throughout food systems, improve collaboration, involve vulnerable groups, make the best use of data and information, as well as incorporating new technologies and traditional knowledge.

The WWA network, set up by leading climate scientists, has built a reputation in recent years for its capacity to evaluate the extent to which climate change has contributed to extreme weather events.

Its results are published as a matter of urgency, without passing through the long peer-review process required by scientific journals, but employ approved methodological approaches.

Additional reporting via Agence France-Presse

Featured image via Flikr/Fouquier, resized to 770×403

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