Is Eastern Africa drought the result of climate change?

While the drought is real, it's too soon to blame it on climate change. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).

Devastating reports coming from the Horn of Africa indicate that some places are experiencing the worst drought in 60 years. And while it may seem logical to blame the dry conditions on climate change, CCAFS theme leader Philip Thornton warns against attributing a single event to climate change. In a recent interview, he told IRIN Africa that there are challenges in projecting climate change impacts in East Africa:

”Some people think that East Africa is drying, and has dried over recent years; currently there is no hard, general evidence of this, and it is very difficult as yet to see where the statistical trends of rainfall in the region are heading, but these will of course become apparent in time.”

Most expert agree that the drought is a strong La Niña event, but are still uncertain how these events are impacted by climate change in general. Regardless, the severe drought is threatening the lives of tens of thousands, who have moved into refugee camps in their quest for water and food. Children are particularly at risk of malnutrition as crops fail and livestock dies.

Early warning systems are essential, says Thornton; but climate information is currently not reaching the poor farmers and pastoralists who need it most.

Thornton has the last word when he says research attention must focus on developing effective early warning systems and ways to help people affected by these events, who have no use for “academic” consideration of the linkages with climate change to cope better with the current levels of weather variability, “whatever happens in the future”.

Read more:

EASTERN AFRICA: Too soon to blame climate change for drought. IRIN Africa, 12 July 2011.