[Marxism] Climate change behind Somali famine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Aug 29 09:18:54 MDT 2011

Global Warming Behind Somali Drought
By Julio Godoy

PARIS, Aug 26, 2011 (IPS) - The severe drought in the Horn of 
Africa, which has caused the death of at least 30,000 children and 
is affecting some 12 million people, especially in Somalia, is a 
direct consequence of weather phenomena associated with climate 
change and global warming, environmental scientists say.

"The present drought in the Horn of Africa has been provoked by El 
Niño and La Niña phenomena in the Pacific Ocean, which unsettle 
the normal circulation of warm and cold water and air, and 
dislocate the humidity conditions across the southern hemisphere," 
Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, senior scientist at the German 
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK, after its 
German name), told IPS.

Both phenomena are a part of the southern oscillation climate 
pattern, that occurs across the tropical Pacific ocean every five 
to seven years. It is characterised by variations in the 
temperature of the surface of the tropical eastern Pacific - 
warming or cooling known as El Niño and La Niña respectively - and 
a changing air surface pressure in the western Pacific.

Both phenomena are coupled: the warm oceanic phase, El Niño, 
accompanies high air surface pressure in the western Pacific, 
while the cold phase, La Niña, accompanies low air surface 
pressure in the western Pacific.

Such conditions can particularly affect regions north of the 
Equator, such as the Horn of Africa. Some 12 million people are 
facing starvation across the region, Djibouti, Sudan, South Sudan 
and parts of Uganda, besides Somalia. So far, famine has only been 
declared in Somalia, a state without a functioning government.

"El Niño and La Niña exacerbate the weather conditions across the 
southern hemisphere, escalating the rainy season in some areas, 
especially in Asia and Australia, and droughts in others, 
especially in Africa," Gerstengarbe said.

Gerstengarbe says climate change and the rising global 
temperatures caused by it have intensified both El Niño and La 
Niña, leading to severe floods in Pakistan and Australia, and 
drought in the Horn of Africa.

Both phenomena have led during the last two years to particularly 
dry rainy seasons and to extreme hot temperatures over East Africa.

According to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric 
Administration (NOAA), La Niña has since 2008 caused a strong drop 
in water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, leading to a 
"below-average precipitation over the central equatorial Pacific."

These cold episodes (referred to as La Niña episodes), the NOAA 
adds, are characterised by lower than normal pressure over 
Indonesia and northern Australia and higher than normal pressure 
over the eastern tropical Pacific.

During cold episodes the normal patterns of tropical precipitation 
and atmospheric air circulation become disrupted. The abnormally 
cold waters in the equatorial central Pacific Ocean suppress 
cloudiness and rainfall, especially between November and April, 
that is, precisely during the regional rainy season.

The phenomenon leads to hotter temperatures in East Africa. Both 
the suppression of rain and the higher temperatures this year have 
caused the worst drought in the Horn of Africa for 60 years.

"Unfortunately, due to the intensification of La Niña, we must 
reckon with growing desertification in Africa, and with more 
droughts in the region around the Horn of Africa," Gerstengarbe added.

Jean-Cyril Dagorn, in charge of environment and economic justice 
for the French branch of the humanitarian organisation Oxfam, 
concurred that climate change and global warming are exacerbating 
extreme weather conditions in Africa.

"For two years, rain precipitation has been below average in East 
Africa, due to La Niña," Dagorn told IPS. "But this year, the 
drought has been extreme, provoking the present humanitarian 
catastrophe in Somalia and other adjacent regions."

Dagorn said that the coming rainy season, scheduled to start in 
October, may intensify the crisis. "Torrential rain falling on 
extreme dry earth will wash away the most fertile soil, making the 
food crisis even more dramatic," Dagorn warned.

Dagorn said droughts have so far occurred every five to seven 
years in the Horn of Africa, but almost never with the extreme 
conditions of today.

"We estimate that due to climate change and the droughts it 
causes, agricultural productivity in the region will fall by up to 
20 percent in the coming decades, especially in the maize and bean 
plantations," Dagorn said.

Besides, he said, the region’s cattle breeders and shepherds have 
lost between 30 and 60 percent of their livestock due to extreme 
weather conditions, aggravating the food crisis.

Dagorn said that the both the agricultural policies of the 
countries affected by the droughts, and international cooperation 
have failed to address the issue.

The United Nations has said 1.6 billion euros would be needed to 
address the crisis. "But France, for instance, has only allocated 
less than 10 million euros," Dagorn said. „It announced urgent 
meetings of donors - which never took place."

Dagorn said humanitarian organisations are buying cattle in poor 
condition to distribute the meat among the communities most 
affected by the famine.

Gerstengarbe says climate change and associated phenomena, and bad 
agricultural practices such as overgrazing, are leading to 
increasing desertification across Africa. "Deserts are growing 
worldwide by some 150 square kilometres a day, but especially 
across Africa."

In July, the head of the United States agency for international 
development, Rajiv Shah, said that climate change has contributed 
to the severity of the crisis.

"There's no question that hotter and drier growing conditions in 
sub-Saharan Africa have reduced the resiliency of these 
communities," Shah told U.S. media. "The change in climate has 
contributed to this problem, without question."

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