La Niña to deliver drier than usual season in East Africa

Friday November 27 2020

Eastern Africa is staring at possible food shortages, reduced food production and increased malnutrition. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


East Africa and the greater region including Somalia and Ethiopia are staring at an even harsher 2021 with possible food shortages, reduced food production and increased malnutrition as meteorological forecasters warn of a coming La Niña next year.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), reports that a La Niña has formed in the eastern Pacific Ocean that will cause drier than normal conditions in much of East Africa and lead to more rainfall in southern Africa.

The larger eastern Africa has therefore been warned to expect drier than usual weather conditions going into January 2021 due to a La Niña event in the eastern Pacific.

It is expected to be moderate to strong. The last time there was a strong La Niña was in 2010-2011, followed by a moderate event in 2011-2012.

The risk of receiving lower than usual rainfall comes at a time when the region is still facing the impact of multiple shocks including a desert locust invasion, floods and Covid-19 pandemic. Lower than usual rainfall in some bread baskets of the region could be disastrous.

Existing food stress


“Because October to December is a major farming season for Kenya, southern Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, and much of Tanzania, it is feared the drier than usual season might impact crops and pastures in eastern and western Kenya, northern Tanzania, southern Ethiopia, northern and western Somalia,” said Djibouti-based Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) in a press release, on the situation in the eight member countries.

Poor production prospects could undo gains made from the past two favourable seasons. There are already 29.5 million people in Igad countries in urgent need of food assistance.

The region hosts 44.8 million people already considered food stressed. These are very vulnerable to climatic shocks and can easily slip into food crisis.

“The resulting poor nutrition status may reduce the immunity of all age-groups, further complicating the vulnerability to the possible effects of Covid-19. For pastoralist communities, poor rains could lead to a shortage of pastures and water for livestock, consequently leading to scarcity of milk and meat production, and declining livestock prices due to poor body condition,” said Igad.

Disaster preparedness

“Overall poor food and nutrition security could increase the levels of acute malnutrition among infants and children. Atypical cross-border livestock migrations may spark resource-based conflicts,” Igad added.

The WMO said in October that the La Niña event is expected to bring drier weather in East Africa, and urged governments to use the weather predictions to mobilise planning in climate sensitive sectors and plan to reduce harmful effects on agriculture, health, water resources and disaster supervision.

Gavin Iley, WMO’s international humanitarian, crisis management and disaster risk reduction expert, said he was particularly concerned about parts of eastern Africa after weather imaging indicated that below normal rainfall was expected for a large part of this region.

Rainfall performance in the short rains season of October to date has been mixed. While some parts like eastern and central Ethiopia, southwestern Somalia, eastern Kenya, northeastern and southwestern Tanzania experienced rainfall deficits, western and central Kenya, eastern Uganda, some parts of southern Ethiopia, and central Somalia received higher than usual rainfall.

Igad said that for farming communities, this could lead to poorer than usual harvests, due to reduced rainfall when crops are at the reproduction stage.

La Niña is a weather pattern that happens in the Pacific Ocean but one that affects weather around the world.

According to the WMO it refers to cooler than usual ocean temperatures in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean, which occurs on average every three to seven years. It usually affects temperatures, precipitation, and storm patterns in many parts of the world. In East Africa, La Niña results in drier than usual seasons.

Extreme events

The past two years have seen some of the most extreme climate events for eastern Africa, with many records broken in terms of rainfall, rising lakes — Lake Victoria reached its highest level on record at 13.42 metres — and lakes in the Rift Valley of Kenya remain flooded, while the water level of the Blue Nile in Khartoum reached a record height in August 2020 of 17.14 metres.

Director of climate services at the WMO, Maxx Dilley said governments can use the predictions of La Niña to adapt their action plans. “You can imagine in the agricultural sector that some crops will do well under wet conditions and others will do better under dry conditions,” Mr Dilley said.

And some agricultural supervision methods can be changed based on whether dry or wet weather is expected.