Climate change played a significant role in Horn of Africa drought, study finds

An international team of climate scientists from the World Weather Attribution group has found in a study that human-caused climate change played a significant role in the recent drought in the Horn of Africa.

Based on the analysis, it was revealed that the drought in the Horn of Africa would not have been as devastating as it is if not for the effect of greenhouse gas emissions.

Scientists used weather data and computer models to compare the climate of today, after reaching about 1.2°C of global warming since the late 1800s, to the climate of the past. They followed peer-reviewed methods.

The report revealed temperatures have significantly increased causing evaporation from soil and plants. This has been attributed to agricultural drought, widespread crop failures, and livestock deaths which have left more than 20 million people at risk of acute food insecurity.

According to Cheikh Kane, Climate Resilience Policy Advisor at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre, there’s a need to reinforce the things that are working, including formal and informal social protection mechanisms, early warning systems, and effective drought management, while looking for ways to reduce the drivers of vulnerability, including state fragility and conflict, environmental degradation, rain-dependent livelihoods, poverty, and marginalization.

“People in the Horn of Africa are no strangers to drought, but the duration of this event stretched people beyond their ability to cope. Five consecutive seasons of below-normal rainfall, combined with rain-dependent livelihoods and vulnerability multipliers, like conflict and state fragility, have created a humanitarian disaster,” Cheikh said.

The analysis taking into comparison 2021 and 2022 rain-affected regions, covering southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia, and eastern Kenya, showed that the two seasons of rain; long rains of March and May as well as short rains of October and December have been compromised.

“This study shows very strongly that drought is much more than just the lack of rain and that the impacts of climate change strongly depend on how vulnerable we are. And one of the main findings from the recently published IPCC synthesis report is that we are way more vulnerable than we thought,” commented Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at Grantham Institute – Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London.

Findings by the scientists inform of rising temperatures, driven by climate change, as a major factor behind the agricultural drought, as they have significantly increased evapotranspiration, a measure of how much water can evaporate from soil and plants.

Therefore, events like the current drought are now much more intense and more likely to happen due to the effects of climate change on evapotranspiration.

Joyce Kimutai, Principal Meteorologist and Climate Scientist at the Kenya Meteorological Department noted that the findings lay out how frequent yearly droughts compounded with heat extremes, in the main rainy season, will severely impact food security and human health in the Horn of Africa as the climate continues to warm.

“It is time we act and engage differently. Central to this process is to transform and enhance the 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 incorporate new technologies and traditional knowledge,” she said.

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