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08 July 2011

Africa Update #37: Rains slipping in the eastern Sahel, famine near certain in Somalia, Kenya

In an area stretching from Niger to Cameroon to Sudan, the rains are becoming erratic and light, threatening crops, livestock and people. Poor rainfall from last season is threatening to cause a famine, primarily in Kenya and Somalia. Northern Africa is now drying down, as is seasonable for this time of year.

It's not pretty. The area that I felt had been improving, and kept hoping would find its rhythm with the rains, has not. Instead the season, now more than a month old in many areas, has proven somewhat erratic with light rains. Western Niger, the breadbasket of one of the poorest countries on Earth, is running at less than half its normal rainfall for this point in the season. Much of Nigeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Sudan- especially portions of Darfur, have been significantly below normal rainfall as well. Chad, which started off the season with a several week-long delay in the rains. At this point, the inconsistent nature of the rains is more damaging than the below normal rainfall. If the rains had been well distributed throughout the season, there would be a better chance of salvaging some crops. However with the harvest starting in some areas in September, rainfall needs to become consistent, so that long cycle crops will manage to survive. In the areas where the long cycle crops have already failed, the rains need to stabilize so that short cycle crops can be planted.

Now from bad to worse. I began commenting about the failing of the rains in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia months ago, and now the impacts of the disaster of a failed wet season is catching the attention of a larger audience. The news media around the globe is starting to warn of an imminent famine in Somalia and possibly Kenya as well if the world does not act to bring in desperately needed food. The complications of no functional government in Somalia will on exacerbate this catastrophe.

In northern Africa rainfall has come to a close for the season. The season was near normal in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia (although the revolutions may have thrown things off in Tunisia and Libya). Above normal rainfall favored Morocco.

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