Eastern Africa’s drought is largely the product of human-driven climate change, according to an international team of climate scientists.
World Weather Attribution is a team of climate researchers and scientists from seven nations, working together to quickly determine whether or not individual extreme weather events were the result of climate change. They work by analyzing historical weather data, using it to create computer model simulations of how current weather events might have played out under previous conditions, and comparing that to today.
In looking at Eastern Africa and its two main rainfall patterns, they found that the long rains season —March through May — was turning drier and the short rains season — typically October through December — was becoming wetter due to climate change. The report also said a “strong increase” in evaporation from soil and plants due to higher temperatures had worsened the drought’s severity.
Together, the altered rain seasons meant that the land could not build up a water reserve, nor could rivers and reservoirs adequately replenish themselves. The hotter temperatures also meant that agricultural crops were prone to fail even in the wetter short season, essentially steaming in the fields.
While climate change has made drought more frequent and extreme in the Horn region, the scientists acknowledged that previous failed rainy seasons, high temperatures, conflict, fragile statehood and poverty are also to blame for the “devastating impacts,” which include over 20 million people affected by food and water shortages, most of them children.
“Climate change caused the low rainfall in the region,” Joyce Kimutai, principal meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department said. “Climate change has made the drought exceptional.”
But the fear is that, under current trends, this drought will not be exceptional but only the establishment of new patterns in Eastern Africa, as well as other arid parts of the world.