Update on East Africa: Drought May Spread to Rest of the World

By: Michele Wolfson

While many of us are in full holiday mode with mad-dash shopping and flamboyant partying, people who live in the Horn of Africa are lucky if they can even get a drink of water. Scientists are worried that the drought that is taking place in Africa could be the grim future across the globe.

The Horn of Africa has been enduring the worst drought in 60 years. Crop failures have left up to 10 million at risk of famine. The social order in Somalia has been outright chaotic with thousands of refugees streaming into Kenya and refusing to return. The U.N. reduced the number of people at risk of starvation and aid has been sent to hard-hit regions, but this may not be enough to prevent drought not only in this area- but also all over the world.

Scientific America reports "drought frequency is expected to triple in the next 100 years." From Australia to North America, there is scientific evidence that claims these regions that provide a substantial amount of food to countries in need, will experience hot, dry climates themselves and may not have the same kind of productivity. "Even the northeastern United States - a region normally omitted from any serious talk about domestic drought - is at risk," said Dorothy Peteet, a senior research scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

East African areas that are plagued by famine hardships have some of the highest growth rates on the planet and increases in agricultural growth simply haven't kept up with all of those mouths to feed. Starvation and social unrest cannot be blamed solely on climate change. Deforestation and agriculture policies exacerbate the issue.

"Simple policy decisions can blunt a crisis. Malawi, in southeastern Africa, gave farmers bags of seed and fertilizer and saw food prices fall and the percentage of its population classified as undernourished drop by almost half over a decade, said Chris Funk, a geographer at the U.S. Geological Society and founding member of the Climate Hazard Group at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Kenya, in contrast, saw its policies stagnate; prices and malnourishment rates both rose. "We think we're going to have continued dryness, at least for the next 10 or 15 years, over East Africa," Funk added.

Both Peteet and Funk insist that we should be taking this matter seriously. Perhaps we should show further interest in this matter before it spreads, becoming a global problem that may be past the point of no return.

Photo: Muzaffar Bukhari 

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