With nearly 11 million people in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia “dangerously hungry and in need of humanitarian assistance”, there can be “no stronger call to take action on climate change,” Oxfam International warned last week, in a media briefing on how climate change is contributing to a mounting humanitarian disaster in East Africa.
“The worst drought-affected areas in Somalia are on the brink of famine,” the international development NGO states. “The crisis could deteriorate significantly over the coming weeks, as rainfall in March and early April was very low in places, and poor rainfall is forecast for April through June.”
The report points to evidence that climate change has made the current drought and recent ones worse.
“Climate change is not a distant, future threat,” Oxfam states. “It is helping fuel this emerging catastrophe in which poverty, chronic malnutrition, weak governance, conflict, drought, and climate change have combined to create a perfect storm. While some still deny the severity of climate change and question the need to combat it, others are struggling for their lives as climate change makes a bad situation worse.”
In the briefing, Oxfam notes that poor or failed rains have brought chronic drought to East Africa for seven of the last 10 years. Long rains, during the rainy season from March to May/June, have failed in 10 of the last 16 years in eastern Kenya and southern Somalia, and temperatures across the region are rising, with pastoralists and smallholders at greatest risk.
The current situation “is worse than the 2010 to 2011 food crisis, which affected millions and resulted in a famine that killed more than 250,000 people,” Oxfam warns. “We are now in the third year of very low rainfall, coupled with high temperatures, which have exhausted people’s ability to cope with another shock.”
In a separate study published last week in the journal Nature, a research team led by UK meteorologist Christopher Taylor of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology links climate change to a tripling in severe storm intensity in northern Africa since the 1980s.
“Some of the most intense thunderstorms in the world already occur in the western part of the Sahel,” the Washington Post reports. “Now, the record shows that they’re occurring more and more frequently, and may continue to increase as the climate keeps warming. The study’s authors suggest that climate warming in the desert region just south of the Sahel has caused changes in wind patterns over northern Africa that have affected the formation of these storms.”
The Post notes that “intense storms can cause serious damage to infrastructure” in the Sahel, “and the region’s changing precipitation patterns could also post a threat to agriculture.”
Underlying both reports is the increasing likelihood that a specific storm, drought, or temperature record can be traced back to human-caused climate change, according to a paper published last week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “The study suggests that anthropogenic global warming, as it has advanced, has had a significant hand in the temperatures seen during the hottest month and on the hottest day on record throughout much of the world,” the Post reports.
“It finds that climate change substantially increased the likelihood of these record warm events occurring in the first place, and also made them more severe than they otherwise would have been, in more than 80% of the observed world.”
Climate change is also increasing the probability and severity of the driest year on record in 57% of the settings covered by the study.
“This suggests that the world isn’t yet at a place where every single record-setting hot event has a human fingerprint, but we are getting close to that point,” said lead author and Stanford University climate scientist Noah Diffenbaugh. “Greater than 80% of those record hot events is a substantial fraction.”