Mar 04 2012

Time to take early action before another Horn of Africa drought

A discussion on the possibility of a third consecutive year of drought in the Horn of Africa was held this week in Kigali, Rwanda. The three day Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum included Government representatives from the region, climatologists, agricultural experts and disaster risk managers. The meeting was hosted by the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and IGAD’s Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) and supported by the UN World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) which noted that the meeting was overshadowed by the world’s failure to act on previous warnings of drought in the region which resulted in thousands of deaths from famine, particularly in Somalia. Towards the end of last year a total of 13.3 million people needed assistance in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, as a result of the worst drought in the region for six decades.

The focus of the meeting was on the role of the regional climate outlook in providing early warnings for drought emergencies and other climate related disasters in the Horn of Africa. It also discussed the prospects for the current March-to-May rainy season and measures to ensure that early warning leads to early action in the event of a failure of the rains. Pedro Basabe, head of the UNISDR Africa office, noted that “Two consecutive years of drought in the Horn of Africa have resulted in catastrophe for many vulnerable communities. A failure of the rains in the coming months will leave them with little coping capacity to survive”. As a result, this year, more than ever, “it is important that climate and food security experts work closely with disaster managers to monitor any serious deterioration in the situation.”

And indeed, according to the regional climate scientific experts in Kigali, drought is likely to return to Somalia and other parts of the Horn of Africa over the next three months. Laban Ogallo, director of IGAD’s Prediction and Applications Centre said there was a “high probability of drought returning to the Greater Horn of Africa and poor rains are probable in all of Somalia, Djibouti, northern Kenya, and southern, eastern and northeastern Ethiopia.” He said that the message had now been given and it was now up to governments, civil society and the media to prepare even if the worst didn’t happen. Participants agreed it was necessary to take preventive action now, find ways to secure livestock and provide cash transfers to people.

The predictions are made on the basis of the weather patterns in the Indian Ocean where increased cyclonic activity has been drawing moisture away from the Horn. The residual effect of a dying La Nina current was also a factor. La Niña appears 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. La Niña was particularly strong in 2010-2011 and parts of the Horn experienced their driest period for 60 years.

Some of the highest ever temperatures of the last thirteen years were recorded in northern Kenya in January where the government is already planning contingency measures. Near normal to below normal rains have also been forecast for much of Tanzania, Burundi; Rwanda; Uganda; and western and southern Kenya. Djibouti is already facing water shortages. Pastoralists in Ethiopia’s Somali Region and the agro-pastoralist communities in southern Oromia as well as areas of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region are likely to face drought, though according to Ethiopia’s Meteorological Services Agency it could be expected to be less severe than last year, as most parts of Ethiopia had received good rains towards the end of 2011. Equally, the effective early warning system and drought risk management mechanisms operating in Ethiopia had managed to contain the humanitarian emergency last year. The government has been distributing food to those in need from its Emergency Food Security Reserve. It will continue to do this as well as take action for water distribution as needed in affected areas. 

Many of the disaster experts cited a slow response by governments and donors to the early warning forecasts of the 2010-2011 drought in the region. There had been a lack of linkage between early warning and early action, and participants agreed that governments and people needed to take pre-emptive action on their own accord and not wait for donors to provide funds. Equally, there is no doubt that IGAD as a region still needs to have to strengthen its Early Warning and Drought Risk Management Mechanisms to respond more quickly and effectively as necessary to overcome or avoid the traumas that comes from drought and drought related disaster.

Meanwhile, it was appropriate that the fifth meeting of the Multidisciplinary Team of the FAO Sub-regional Office for Eastern Africa was held here in Addis Ababa on Tuesday. State Minister of Agriculture, Mitiku Kassa in his opening remarks called on development partners to back ongoing endeavors of Eastern African nations to ensure food security. He urged development partners to work closely with these nations particularly in the design and implementation of sustained agricultural development programs. “The agriculture sector of Eastern Africa is subject to quite numerous challenges, and it is time for the nations and development partners to act together towards realizing a hunger-free Eastern Africa,” the State Minister noted. He also called for greater attention to the concept of a green growth economy which he said was central to eliminating poverty and bringing about sustained development. The FAO Sub-regional Coordinator for Eastern Africa, Castro Camarada, stressed the need for an integrated approach to address both the short and long term development needs of the region. Government delegates and development partners as well as civil society and private sector representatives took part in the three-day meeting under the theme: “Working together for improved food security: an integrated approach to eliminating hunger from the Horn of Africa.”


*This article first appeared on A Week in the Horn, March 2, 2012 issue, titled ‘Time to take early action before another Horn of Africa drought’.

Check the Humanitarian archive or the Hunger archive for related posts.