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11 November 2010

How to Create a Disaster in Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire just had it's first elections after the end of a civil war that pitted the Muslim north against the Christian south. The two main presidential candidates in the elections were backed by their respective regions. Alassane Ouattara, the northern Muslim candidate is the internationally recognized winner of the elections. However, the Christian candidate (and incumbent) from the south, Laurent Gabagbo has refused to concede the election. ECOWAS panicked that its largest economy is about to return to violence, and suspended Côte d'Ivoire, and the Africa Union followed suit. The ECOWAS took it once step further. They threatened to invade. So what does this have to do with meteorology?

The cocoa crop. Côte d'Ivoire is the worlds largest exporter of cocoa, and most of the southern economy is dependent on the export of agriculture for survival. Coffee and timber exports are also important, but cocoa is the main cash crop. Enter the economic crisis to complicate the domestic, and possibly regional political crisis. A statistical model, used and maintained the US Climate Prediction Center (top graphic) is predicting the odds of a below normal rainy season to be fairly high, not just across Côte d'Ivoire, but also Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone. Of these countries, only Ghana is politically stable. Liberia and Sierra Leone both had civil wars that came to a close during the last decade.

Even if the political crisis is solved by then, there is still resentment (as this crisis shows) left over from the Ivorian Civil War. Such an event would disproportionately affect the south.. Alassane Ouattara, the internationally recognized winner from the north, will have to devote more attention and use the countries limited resources in the area where his main rivals support largely stems from. This could help provide healing tensions (assuming Gabagbo stands down), but could also inflame tensions if it is believed that Ouattara is holding back aid or is otherwise neglecting the south.

It is important to note, however, that only statistically models are showing a dry season, IRI at Columbia is not yet showing such a trend. I will be keeping a close eye on this.

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