Drought, famine loom over Kenya and Horn of Africa

Drought and hunger loom over Kenya as scientists on climate change yesterday warned of an impending La Niña phenomenon that could trigger prolonged dry spells and severe water shortage. The report said there are all indications of the potential for a La Niña period developing during the second quarter of 2018 in the Horn of Africa.

The La Niña typically brings extreme weather that develops when water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean begin to dip below average across the east-central Equatorial Pacific.

Global climate La Niña impacts tend to be opposite those of El Niño impacts, the latter which brings onset of prolonged rains and flooding. La Niña originates from Spanish, meaning ‘the little girl’, analogous to El Niño which means ‘the little boy’.

Speaking in Mombasa during the start of a 48th Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF48) which brings together climate scientists and researchers, the experts said the situation calls for keen monitoring so as to provide timely information to regional governments to enable formulation of contingency plans to reduce any potential impact.

Data collected by Igad Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC) shows the Horn of Africa may have to endure a dry season and more food insecurity because of weather patterns in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean.

A potential La Niña is likely to have the most severe impact on Kenya and other Igad countries. The resulting drought could trigger many factors, severest of them hunger and thirst for humans and livestock. Drier than normal conditions would negatively affect crops harvest, worsen livestock conditions and trigger increased livestock migration, which facilitates conflict between livestock and crop farmers over grazing lands.

The regional consensus climate outlook for March, April and May will be released today during the meeting. Yesterday, Environment and Forestry Principal secretary Charles Sunkuli said the meeting that has drawn experts from Igad member states is meant to share and build consensus on the weather outlook before the long rains.

“I encourage Climate Prediction and Application Center (ICPAC), National Meteorological Service and researchers in the field of weather and climate to monitor the evolution of La Nina and provide useful information that will enable formulation of contingency plans to reduce any potential impacts,” said Sunkuli.

He urged climate experts from Igad member states which include Ethiopia, Somali, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Uganda, Sudan, South Sudan and Kenya to partner in addressing the weather challenges as climate information plays a critical role in the socio-economic development of any country.

Sunkuli said once the regional seasonal forecast is done all the national meteorological and hydrological services will down-scale the forecast to suit specific respective countries.

However, Kenya Meteorological Department, through its Director Peter Ambenje, said a full report on the impact of the forecast on Kenya will be released later. ICPAC director Guleid Artan said depressed rainfall conditions are likely to continue over the coming months.

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