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 has called 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. The combination of poor rainfall, political instability and economic issues led to at least ten million people going hungry. An estimated 50,000-100,000 died as a result, and millions were 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 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.
March 2012 rainfall in much of East Africa was below its long-term average (brown shading). Click on the map for an interactive version with legend.
In January, Lyon and IRI climate modeler 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.
Lyon explains more about the key climate factors that affect rainfall patterns over East Africa in the brief video above. This is the latest in our series of video interviews with IRI scientists about the work they're doing in East Africa. Watch and share them all from here.
About the IRI The IRI works on the development and implementation of strategies to manage climate related risks and opportunities. Building on a multidisciplinary core of expertise, IRI partners with research institutions and local stakeholders to best understand needs, risks and possibilities. The IRI supports sustainable development by bringing the best science to bear on managing climate risks in sectors such as agriculture, food security, water resources, and health. By providing practical advancements that enable better management of climate related risks and opportunities in the present, we are creating solutions that will increase adaptability to long term climate change.
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