CCAFS / Climate Change / Drought / East Africa / Ethiopia / Food Security / ILRI / Kenya / Pastoralism / Pro-Poor Livestock / Somalia / Vulnerability

Is famine in the Horn of Africa linked to climate change or not?

Duncan Green, director of research at Oxfam GB, in the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog today, argues that whether or not the more frequent droughts occurring in the Horn of Africa are due to human-enhanced ‘climate change’, and whether or not this region is likely to get wetter or drier in future (neither of which we can know yet), what we do know is that we can expect higher temperatures and more unpredictable rains in future, so we need to prepare for the impacts of that on the Horn’s livestock herders and crop farmers. ILRI researchers agree with his assessment. See, for example, this earlier article posted on ILRI’s Clippings Blog: Coping with weather variability—Urgent in Africa whether or not it’s due to climate change, 14 Jul 2011.

Duncan Green says:

‘So is famine in the Horn of Africa linked to climate change or not? . . .  It’s impossible to answer with a simple yes or no—but here’s what we think we know so far.

‘The current drought conditions have been caused by successive seasons with very low rainfall. . . .

‘The historical record does not “prove” that the current drought is directly attributable to climate change. . . [but a] combination of higher temperatures and more unpredictable rains is alarming for food production. One recent estimate published by the Royal Society suggests much of east Africa could suffer a decline in the length of the growing period for key crops of up to 20% by the end of the century, with the productivity of beans falling by nearly 50%.

‘The conclusion? . . . [U]nless something is done, the current suffering offers a grim foretaste of the future—temperatures in east Africa are going to rise and rainfall patterns will change, making a bad situation worse.

What to do? First, remember that while the drought is caused by lack of rainfall, famine is man-made. . . .It is no accident that the communities worst affected by the drought are not just those blighted by conflict but also by decades of official neglect and contempt from governments, which see pastoralism as an unwanted relic of the past.

Second, the famine shows the extreme vulnerability of poor people to weather events like failed rains. Governments and the international community have to save lives now, but also act to reduce that chronic vulnerability, building local ability to manage the drought cycle, improving the flow of data, information and ideas for adapting to climate change, and drastically increasing long-term investment in smallholder agriculture and pastoralism, which have shown they can provide a decent life for millions of east Africans, provided they are supported (rather than ignored) by governments. . . .

Read the whole article at the Guardian‘s Poverty Matters Blog:  Is climate change to blame to famine in the Horn of Africa?, 8 Aug 2011.

See also the following related stories on ILRI’s News Blog:

Predicted impacts of climate change on Kenya: Definitely hotter–expect less productive cropping, more livestock herding, 5 Aug 2011.

La Nina, not climate change, probable cause of East Africa’s drought–ILRI livestock scientists, 26 Jul 2011.

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