The African states on the east coast suffer from too much and too little rain

MOMBASA – Surrounded by miles of parched land and the remains of his starved livestock, Daniel Lepaine is a worried man. Dozens of his goats in Ngong, a town in southern Kenya, have died after three years of devastating droughts in the east and Horn of Africa. The rest are starving to death as the rain continues to fail.

“If this drought continues, I will have no livelihood and nothing for my family,” Lepaine said. “We fervently pray for rain.”

But a few thousand miles south, communities face the opposite problem.

It is Tropical Cyclone Freddy, which has already claimed 21 lives and displaced thousands more in Madagascar and Mozambique is scheduled to land again in Mozambique on Friday. The nation is already suffering from Freddy’s first brawl last month and severe flooding before that.

Meteorologists told The Associated Press that the uneven and devastating water distribution in Africa’s east coast nations is being caused by natural weather systems and is being exacerbated by human-caused climate change with cyclones sucking up water that would otherwise be destined for nations farther north.

“The trend has always been towards two opposing weather systems,” said Evans Mukolwe, the former head of Kenya’s meteorological department. “Intensified cyclones in southern Africa are leading to drought on the eastern side, including the Horn of Africa.”

The current drought in the region began in late 2020 when the region’s brief rainy season failed. Meteorologists tracked the lack of rain until the beginning La Nina in late summer of the same year, the natural and cyclical weather event that cools sea surface temperatures in the Pacific, with domino effects for the African continent and the rest of the world.

Along with El Nino and the neutral state, La Nina is called ENSO, which stands for El Nino Southern Oscillation. These events have the greatest natural impacts on climate and can mitigate or amplify the impacts of human-caused climate change.

“There is a link between the southern oscillation of El Nino, rainfall patterns and drought in eastern and southern Africa,” said climate scientist Marjahn Finlayson. La Nina means that East Africa “would be prepared for drier conditions, while Southern Africa would be more prepared for wetter and wetter conditions”.

When it comes to tropical cyclones, ENSO is an important factor in where they form and where they end, said Anne-Claire Fontaine, research associate with the World Meteorological Organization’s tropical cyclone program.

El Nino favors tropical cyclones that form over the central Indian Ocean basin and then move toward the South Pole, Fontaine said. “While La Nina favors tropical cyclone formation over the east-central portion of the basin and zonal tracks trending west-southwest” where it meets southern Africa.

The bad thing was La Nina declared over on Thursday by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which meteorologists say could spell better news for the continent.

“That means we’ll be entering an ENSO-neutral phase by around June,” Finlayson said, when El Nino is then expected to take over – potentially overcoming the drought.

“The end of La Nina means El Nino rain. But that may not happen immediately. For Africa, El Nino rains are usually expected in the short rainy seasons from October to December,” Mukolwe said.

But there are still the effects of climate change, which exacerbates hurricanes and drought by making them longer, more intense, and harder, according to the United Nations Weather Agency. Studies going back to the mid-1980s suggest there is a clear link between warmer oceans and the intensity and number of hurricanes.

Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events such as floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires and sandstorms as it has less capacity to prepare for natural disasters. According to a UN report. The continent contributes only about 4% to global greenhouse gas emissions, but suffers disproportionately.

Southern Africa is still caught in the middle of cyclone season, with severe flooding killing dozens, destroying homes and uprooting communities. Since 2019, the region has borne the brunt of 20 cyclones. A scientific analysis of the hurricanes in the region over the past year found that climate change was making tropical storms more damaging and intense.

Meanwhile in the East and Horn of Africa, now in their sixth straight dry season, communities are counting on enormous losses. Authorities say 11 million livestock and iconic wildlife species have died due to the drought, leaving pastoralist families in abject poverty. As of mid-February, over 6,000 wild animals, including elephants, giraffes and wildebeest, have died from the drought in Kenya alone, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service.

In the short to medium term, however, Finlayson is cautiously optimistic about the east of the continent.

“Projections are that we should expect a strong El Nino that will last from June to August,” she said, which would make for better conditions on Africa’s east coast. “It’s likely that we’ll see that impact in the boreal fall, but we’ll have to wait and see.”


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Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The African states on the east coast suffer from too much and too little rain

Sarah Y. Kim

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