Horn of Africa Suffering From Longest Drought Ever Recorded
End-of-year rainfall totals were not enough to pull the eastern Horn of Africa out of a relentless multiyear drought, marking the fifth consecutive below-average rainy season for the region.
Following the below-average October-November-December (OND) 2022 rainy season, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) reported that people in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia are officially experiencing the longest drought sequence ever recorded.
“Five inches or so of rain, over three months, in a very hot region, is very close to no rainfall,” Chris Funk, Research Director for the Climate Hazards Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote. “According to our rainfall data, which extends reliably back to about 1950, a sequence of five dry seasons has never happened before.”
In June 2022, FEWS NET and other food security agencies warned that the most recent March-April-May (MAM) rains were the worst in 70 years, and a subsequent below-average OND season was likely. That forecast has now been realized, and projections for the next rainy season in MAM 2023 remain grim.
According to FEWS NET agroclimatologists, the effects of climate change and recent La Niña events are the main culprits behind the eastern Horn of Africa’s relentless drought. Both have conspired to produce exceptionally strong Pacific sea surface temperature gradients, and following a La Niña climate pattern in OND, there is a strong likelihood of below-average rains in the subsequent MAM rainy season.
The latest models suggest that, although current La Niña conditions are expected to dissipate before March 2023, it is likely that the eastern Horn of Africa will experience a sixth consecutive season of drought this year.
“Overall, a below-normal outlook for the upcoming MAM season appears to be the best assumption, but the outlook is not as pessimistic as last year,” Funk and co-authors wrote.
Since 2016, normal rainy seasons in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia have been rare. Out of 13 seasons since OND 2016, eight have been dry or very dry, three have been wet or very wet, and only two have been normal.
“Research by FEWS NET scientists continues to unpack, explain and help predict the eastern Horn's increasingly volatile climate,” Funk said. “As more energy and water moves through a warming atmosphere, droughts and floods appear to be more frequent. This whipsaw volatility has resulted in repeated shocks.”
Rainfall totals from OND 2022 were insufficient to support the growth of crops, the fertility of livestock or the replenishment of critical water resources. This news has been especially devastating in the most vulnerable parts of the region, including multiple areas of Somalia that are on the brink of an official famine.
Although FEWS NET and other food security organizations have accurately forecast all five seasons of drought months in advance, relief efforts for the region remain severely underfunded.
“The United States has provided more than $2.5 billion to the Horn of Africa drought response since October 2021, about two-thirds of all funding received. But the crisis is continuing unabated, with an unthinkable sixth dry season forecast for this spring,” FEWS NET Team Leader Kiersten Johnson said. “This unprecedented situation demands an unprecedented global response to stem the daily loss of life amid a historic drought fueled by climate change.”