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22 July 2011

Africa Update #39: Moisture deteriorating across the Sahel

As rainfall continues to be below normal across much of the Sahel, concerns are rising about patches of failed crops from Nigeria to Sudan. In east Africa, the food crisis is now building to a head, parts of Somalia have been declared to be in a famine by the UN, and more territory in Somalia, and possibly Ethiopia and Kenya may follow.

Rainfall has been poor across much of the Sahel thus far this season. Niger, Chad and (North?) Sudan have all had significantly below normal rainfall. Niger's problem is largely in the far west, where the bulk of the countries crops are grown. In the case of Chad, there has been a game of catch-up lately, but even here more moisture is needed. Nigeria is also suffering with rainfall suppressed across much of the country, with the exception of the greater Lagos area. The same patch of poor rainfall spreads over the border and into Cameroon. The good news with these poor rainfall totals is that precipitation has constantly been coming down in most areas, even if totals are low. This means that pastures should remain lush, and livestock well feed. Additionally, drinking water has not been an unusually large issue this year. Crops on the other hand, particularly maize crops, are suffering, and to a lesser degree millet crops may also be drying out in scattered patches across this region.

Coastal parts of Ghana and Côte d'Ivorie have had some suppressed rainfall. That dryness extends along the coast through Liberia, Sierra Leone (the above image is overstating the dryness in Sierra Leone), Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and The Gambia. This is particularly concerning in Senegal and The Gambia as their brief wet season is approaching the midway point. More moisture is needed, especially in the Groundnut Basin of northern Senegal.

Months after the harvest failed for the second consecutive growing season the United Nations has declared a famine to be currently occurring in Bakool and Lower Shabelle, Somalia. There is the possibility that additional provinces in Somalia or even areas of nearby Kenya or Ethiopia may be added to this list. The US funded Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET) has declared everything from Mudug south to be in a state of Emergency. That label extends into a number of administrative divisions in both Kenya and Ethiopia. The Crisis label, or worse, is being used to describe the majority of all three countries. Note that along the western Ethiopian highlands, and near Lake Victoria, there are no significant acute food security problems being reported by FEWS NET.

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