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HORN OF AFRICA: Drought warning prompts call for early action

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
Drought and related famine sparked massive displacement in Somalia in 2011
KIGALI, 29 February 2012 (IRIN) - Drought is likely to return to Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa over the next three months, say regional climate scientists meeting in the Rwandan capital, Kigali. The forecast comes just weeks after the UN declared the Somali “famine” over.

“There is a high probability of drought returning to the Greater Horn of Africa…Poor rains are a definite in all of Somalia, Djibouti, northern Kenya, southern, eastern and northeastern Ethiopia,” said Laban Ogallo, director of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC), which provides forecasts for the Horn.

“We have put the message out there. It is now up to governments, civil society and the media to prepare… for the worst-case scenario even if the worst does not happen. There is no harm in being prepared,” he said. “We must realize many of these areas are already facing the cumulative impact of several droughts.”

Youcef Ait Chellouche, deputy regional coordinator of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, said the coping mechanism of people in most of these areas who experienced severe drought in 2010-2011, is almost non-existent. In the coming days, he said, he would be meeting disaster risk managers from various countries and agencies to draw up a plan for early action.

“We cannot wait for people to show up in Dadaab [refugee camp in eastern Kenya] yet again. We have to take preventive action now. We need to find ways to secure livestock and provide cash transfers to people now. These are some of the lessons from last year’s drought,” he added.

It took scientists three days of brainstorming over rainfall and temperature data, the status of ocean currents and the strength of the La Niña to make the forecast at the 30th Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum in Kigali.

Increased cyclonic activity recorded over the Indian Ocean in the past few weeks was one of the major factors drawing moisture away from the Horn, explained Ogallo. “The Indian Ocean is rather warm at the moment and will continue to be over the next few months.” He cited the recent cyclones recorded near Madagascar.

Climate scientists Andrew Colman with the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre and Vadlamani Kumar from the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the residual effects of a dying La Niña were also a factor in possible poor rains over the Horn.

La Niña occurs when the surface of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean - the world’s largest body of water - cools, and has a climatic impact in other regions of the world. A particularly strong La Niña was recorded in 2010-2011 and parts of the Horn experienced their driest period in 60 years.

“We are in a transition phase. It [La Niña] seems to be dying out but it always gets a bit chaotic now [weather-wise] during such time,” said Peter Ambenje, deputy director of Kenya’s meteorological department.

“Near normal to below normal rains” - meaning the outlook is not very hopeful - have also been forecast for southern, eastern and northern Tanzania; Burundi; Rwanda; Uganda; and western and southern Kenya.

High temperatures

“We have already recorded some of the highest temperatures ever in the past 13 years in northern Kenya in January 2012,” said Ambenje. The government, he said, was already planning contingency measures. “People will need water and their livestock will need to be secured.”

The US Agency for International Development’s FEWS NET said people should expect erratic rain in southern Somalia and southeastern Kenya. It would be releasing a detailed outlook in the coming weeks.

Ethiopia’s pastoralists in the Somali Region and the agro-pastoralist communities in southern Oromia could be in for hard times ahead, and The Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR), one of Ethiopia’s poorest, is also likely to face a drought, say climate scientists.

However, Dula Shanko, head of Ethiopia Meteorological Department, said they expected the drought to be less severe than last year, as most parts of Ethiopia had received good rains towards the end of 2011.

Djibouti is already facing water shortages, said Osman Saad Said, chief of the country’s Met Division. At least one in eight people there was in need of emergency aid in 2011, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “We are already drilling more and more bore-wells in the city,” he said.

Many disaster experts cited the slow response by governments and donors to the early warning forecasts of the 2010-2011 Horn drought.

Abbas Gullet, secretary-general of the Kenya Red Cross, said his organization had responded to the warning and launched an appeal in early 2011, but it had not managed to raise sufficient resources as the government had failed to ring official alarm bells. Only after it went to the people later in the year as part of the “Kenya 4 Kenyans” campaign were sizeable funds raised.

One of the problems highlighted was the lack of linkage between early warning and early action. “There is no framework that allows the trigger of funds when the early warning bell is sounded,” said one aid worker.

“Governments and people must take pre-emptive action on their own accord and not wait for donors to provide funds,” said another.

"It will be interesting to see how humanitarian actors - and donors - will factor this information into their decision-making, what they will be doing on this basis in the next few weeks,” said Maarten Van Aalst, director of the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, and co-ordinating lead author of the summary of the special report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change (SREX) produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2011.

“Given the moderate strength of the forecast signal, I think the best options would be no-regrets investments, particularly aimed at high-risk areas still suffering from the current crisis, and proper monitoring so that further scale-up can be fast when it is needed,” he added.

jk/cb

Theme(s): East African Food Crisis, Early Warning, Natural Disasters, Aid Policy,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]