Climate change ‘poses drought risk for Africa’

Regions that are dry will become even drier, say the researchers Copyright: Flickr/DanieVDM

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Climate change could pose a new threat to food-insecure Sub-Saharan Africa, according to the USAID Famine Early Warning System Network (FEWS NET).

Christopher Funk, a geographer-climatologist from the University of California Santa Barbara and member of FEWS NET, presented their draft Climate Change Impact Report at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston, United States, last week (15 February).

The warming of the Indian Ocean and increasingly El Niño-like weather causing variable rainfall could potentially produce drought across most of eastern and southern Africa.

"Some of the most profound and direct impacts of climate change over the next few decades will be on agricultural and food systems," said Funk.

Climate analysts predict that the warming of the Indian Ocean could result in a decrease in rainfall of up to 25 per cent on eastern and southern Africa.

"That means that the areas that are dry will become even drier, and areas that are currently well-off will start drying up," said John Shroder, professor at the University of Nebraska.

Shroder explains that decreased rainfall will lead to decreased crop yields. "By 2020 all of Africa will have an expected crop reduction ranging from 10–20 percent."

Agricultural land in Africa is increasing, but yield per acre is still low, according to the report. Cropland has only increased by half while the population has doubled over the past 25 years. If this gap continues to grow, the effects of the drought will be amplified.

But Funk said that mitigation options are available. "A modest increase in yields of 15 per cent [per acre] per decade could overcome the anticipated declines in production due to rainfall." This growth would even make sub-Saharan Africa more secure than it is today.

Funk said that the use of technology in farming will be a greater determinant of food security than climate change.

But climate-induced drought may have other effects beside increased food insecurity. For example, drought in the Horn of Africa is driving a large part of the population into areas that are more at risk of flooding.

"Not only must we find ways to help communities adapt to change, we must adapt our emergency response mechanisms as part of this adaptation process," says Funk.