The most extraordinary dry spell in East Africa in 60 years is constantly afflicting the continent. Undernutrition, starvation, disease, and fatality are all on the rise in East Africa as a result of the ongoing repercussions of prolonged drought.

Every so often, it is heartbreaking to witness the same horror: a climatic cycle that delivers terrible dryness and starvation to East Africa, putting hundreds of thousands of lives and fortunes in jeopardy.

The climatic phenomenon that is causing these incidents is “La Nina,” which has been exacerbated by climate change. La Nina is caused by a drop in sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific waters, resulting in drought periods across eastern Africa. Temperature increase caused by humans in the western Pacific Ocean exacerbates the problem.

The fast heating of the West Pacific as a consequence of international pollution has led to more significant precipitation across Indonesia, and on the contrary, extensive rainfall imbalances in numerous countries across Africa such as Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

South Sudan has been proclaimed a famine region due to civil war, drought, and economic turmoil, with over 5 million people facing food insecurity. Drought-stricken Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Yemen have all experienced food shortages as a result of the continent’s prolonged drought, which does not seem to come to a halt.

Numerous compelling reasons contributed to the drought’s repercussions, including rising food costs, persistent local strife, constrained humanitarian availability, disrupted trade and market dynamics, and multiple seasons of unsuccessful rainfall.

Subsequently, droughts in 2010 and 2011 pushed Somalia towards famine. Over 260,000 people perished, with almost fifty percent of them being minors. Then, in 2016/2017 and 2020/2021, the region was hit by two successive droughts.

Inadequate rainfall has caused a severe regional water crisis and resulted in enormous cattle mortality, jeopardizing herdsmen populations’ subsistence and exacerbating their fragility. Due to security issues, distant geographic regions, insufficient transport networks, and lack of charitable assistance, a substantial percentage of the afflicted people are still fighting for life and death.

Table of Contents

Water scarcity, Humans and Animals

Dog sitting in a barren land
Dog sitting in a barren land | Image Credit – Joe Leineweber

Water is sparse, and grasslands are barren. According to an FAO report, 80 percent of animals in cross-border territories are moving in search of better living conditions. Hundreds and thousands of animals have either perished or grown ill, and as we speak, numerous are in danger.

Most of the residents in East Africa are nomadic herders who wander the parched eastern parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, raising cattle. 

These creatures graze scarce plants in arid places during favorable seasons. Livestock is a means of escaping hunger and deprivation. Droughts, on the other hand, can sweep them away. And, much like grain costs rise, livestock perishes, and life-sustaining dairy stock runs out.

Across many locations, livestock markets have plummeted, and in others, economies are crumbling down. Due to water scarcity, milk and dairy production have ceased in some of the worst impact areas, resulting in increased pricing for nutritious milk products.

Intensification of poverty jeopardizing thousands

Dry spell in East Africa has severely reduced crops and driven grain and other dietary staple values to unprecedented heights. Such tendencies have been putting a tremendous strain on consumers and presenting particular hazards to nomadic herders in the zone.

Considering that COVID-19 has reduced workers’ wages, addressing and eradicating poverty will be critical this year. As per the World Development Indicators, the poorest 20% of Ethiopians live on roughly US$250 annually, which is much less compared to one-hundredth of the American average household income.

Numerous African farmers and cattlemen have been unable to maintain their living due to a series of disastrous dry and wet periods. Simultaneously, in Eastern and Southern Africa, cyclones and colonies of Sahara locusts exacerbated human suffering.

Bad harvests and crop failures in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola have wreaked havoc on agricultural operations, and commodity prices have jumped dramatically. A large portion of East Africa has seen recorded lowest precipitation since 1981 over the last four growing periods.

Cyclones Idai and Kenneth wreaked havoc in other places in March and April 2019, just as the reaping season began.

Farm animals-dependent households have few options for earning money and are obliged to trade their meager capital resources (such as houses, land, etc.) at rock-bottom rates merely to stay afloat. While the life of each domesticated animal is lost, comeback becomes increasingly tricky.

Hunger, Education and Mass Displacement

Hunger Education and Mass Displacement
Hunger Education and Mass Displacement | Image Credit – Dazzle Jam

Communities in drought-stricken regions are saying that they are consuming less, less frequently, and what they consume is not nutritionally balanced. 

When two successive monsoon showers of rain failed in 2010 and 2011, approximately 260,000 Somalis died of famine. And, almost every person in these locations would prefer to relocate as far as their situations allow.

In the southern region, one in every ten children under the age of five perished due to a combination of factors brought about by drought. 

As anticipated by climate experts, recurring droughts emerged once more in 2016 and 2017, unleashing more devastation. 

Crop failure resulted in lost earnings and a six-fold increase in the proportion of chronically malnourished citizens. Over 12 million residents in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya were in severe need of emergency assistance.

When 31% of toddlers in Sub-Saharan Africa are underdeveloped as a result of persistent starvation, they are unable to grow and contribute to the system. 

Their brains and bodily systems aren’t getting the necessary amount of proper supplements during the development phase to promote their physical and mental development.

Thus, the countries lose out on significant leadership and innovative potential presented by younger generations, perpetuating poverty and deprivation. 

The schooling sector has also been disassembled as an increasing number of school-going children and teachers migrate searching for pasture and water. 

As a growing majority of the school pupils and instructors travel in quest of grassland and water, the education system is heavily impacted. Education in East Africa is not a basic need. 

For instance, in Somalia, the dryness has forced the closure of more than 400 educational institutions across the region, impacting almost 55,000 students since December 2010. Furthermore, approximately 60,000 dropouts have been confirmed in Ethiopia.

Only a few farmers have managed to cultivate produce in South Sudan, where residents have abandoned their houses due to water-induced violence and terrorism. This reduces the variety of foods available at neighborhood markets and adds to the cost of meals. 

In addition, 60 percent of the region is impassable by roadway due to adverse environmental conditions, limiting the transfer of food assistance and commodities to the marketplace.

Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, and Northern Uganda are by far the worst-affected nations, with around 16 to 20 million residents facing starvation. Nevertheless, some states are attempting to lessen the consequences of the drought by implementing measures of their own. 

Kenya has said that it will treble its food aid budget, and Uganda has diverted some of its development funds to disaster relief. However, it has not been enough. Humans cannot beat nature!

Too little or too much rain

Prolonged downpours were 150 percent to 200 percent above average in various East African regions from March to May 2018. 

Herders were relieved since their cattle benefited from the regrowth of pastures. Flash floods and bursting rivers, on the other hand, wiped away crops, roadways, and crossings in many areas, hampering both farming and rescue operations.

Storms continued to roll. In 2020, approximately two months of severe rains and flooding wreaked havoc throughout Sudan’s 18 states, affecting over 875,000 people, and more than 50% of them were minors.

Cattle and farmland were destroyed or wiped away, destroying families and livelihoods. Children were at a higher risk of malnutrition and were more susceptible to infection and sickness. Around 9.6 million individuals were confronted with food insecurity and in need of assistance at the period.

Poverty-stricken families could not afford sufficient nourishment to support their children’s health under such circumstances. When they ran out of cash and food, they turned to governmental bodies or relief agencies for assistance. 

And, the longer these circumstances remain, the more difficult it is for families to avoid the consequences of lost jobs and houses. East Africans expected that rain would solve their problem as anyone would expect. But, in fact, the heavy downpour just intensified everything they had been experiencing earlier. 

Climate models predictions

Drought in East Africa is severe
Drought in East Africa is severe | Image Credit – Matt Palmer

Computerized climate models can typically forecast where extremely warm waters can be found, which will further help to estimate and diagnose droughts ahead of time. For example, when the East Pacific heats up, dry spells in northern Ethiopia and Southern Africa are exacerbated.

If the excess heat is concentrated in the western Pacific and eastern Indian Oceans, this will imply famine in Kenya, Somalia, and southern Ethiopia. 

Recognizing how climate change relates to unusually warm sea surface temperatures is necessary for making these predictions. It also suggests that we can assist in the prevention of food crises.

Recorded sea surface temperatures were used to inspire a combined warning in 2016/17 that allowed faster emergency interventions. When the 2017 monsoon failed in Somalia, aid was already pouring for millions of victims.

Now, in 2021/2022, experts are combining La Nia analogs and protracted projections of western Pacific Ocean parameters to produce even early drought projections, forecasting a bad March-to-May monsoon season in 2022, which terminates eight months later.

Our capacity to create accurate climate predictions is advancing, but progress is still to be made. The real kicker is that the crisis might be alleviated, which gives optimism with the help of climate models. The depressing reality, unfortunately, is that very little has been accomplished. 

Henceforth, a sustainable approach is required for the East African region, constantly affected by climate change-related disasters, such as drought being one of the most long-standing and dangerous conditions.

To Conclude

Drought is not much of a threat
Drought is not much of a threat | Image Credit – Pixabay

Droughts and extended dry spells do not always have to result in death. And, desertification is a typical occurrence in numerous regions of the Western world, which are aggregated by anthropogenic climate change. 

Droughts alone in these areas do not result in millions of people starving to death; our inefficiency to address the problem does.

Humans have acclimated to the dry climate in Israel and Australia by employing innovations like drip irrigation and solar-powered saltwater treatment. And these blissful technologies might be transferred to drought-affected countries in Eastern Africa.

Additional low-tech measures, such as strategic afforestation and shifting from drought-sensitive cereals to more drought-resistant produce, may also make a significant difference.

The current drought in East Africa is a tragic modern memory for several sufferers. In the third year of deficient rain combined with extreme heat, the population’s resilience to respond to dry surroundings and sparse unreliable precipitation has been weakened. Imagine fighting and toiling for a glass of water or a plate of food! 

In recent decades, several drought research has focused chiefly on East Africa. However, there is no complete understanding of droughts, encompassing their development, intensity, social repercussions, and susceptibility to humans.

Droughts are not unprecedented in this area, but they are becoming more severe. Climate change exacerbates its effects and implications for human societies.

(Last Updated on March 28, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!