Drought in the Horn of Africa is now about 100 times more likely to occur as a result of the man-made climate crisis, according to a study released on Thursday.
The region, which includes Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, is facing its worst drought in four decades.
More than 43,000 people died in Somalia alone last year from the conditions, with half of the deaths in children under five. About 36.4 million people are currently at risk of starvation.
The rainy season, essential for the survival of these predominantly agricultural and pastoral communities, has ceased in the last five years.
Cheikh Kane of the charity, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Center, described it as “a humanitarian disaster”.
The new study, by the international research group World Weather Attribution (WWA), found that climate change has made dry soils much more likely in the Horn of Africa, leading to droughts.
And the drought wouldn’t have been as bad without the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, said WWA, a collective of scientists that assesses climate’s role behind extreme events.
Without climate impacts, conditions in the region would be “normal” or “abnormally dry,” the study found.
Rising global heat is causing agricultural drought in the Horn of Africa. Warmer conditions evaporate moisture from the soil, decimating crops and pastures in a region where more than half of the population depends directly or indirectly on agriculture and livestock for a living.
While the climate crisis has made droughts more frequent and extreme, it overlaps with other vulnerabilities, such as conflict in the region, political instability and poverty.
“The results of this study show that frequent multi-year droughts combined with extreme temperatures in the main rainy season will severely impact food security and human health in the Horn of Africa as the climate continues to warm,” said Joyce Kimutai , Principal Meteorologist and Climate Scientist at the Kenyan Government Meteorological Department.
The research was conducted by analyzing weather data and models to understand the impact on drought if the world had not warmed by 1.2 degrees Celsius in the last 150 years.
The researchers found that the region’s wet season, between March and May, is about twice as likely to have less rainfall due to climate change.
On the other hand, more rainfall now occurs from October to December which disrupts the agricultural pattern of the region.
This study clearly demonstrates that droughts are much more than just lack of rain and that the impacts of climate change strongly depend on how vulnerable we are.
Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute
The WWA team say the Horn of Africa needs to be made more resilient to future severe droughts using both new technologies and traditional knowledge.
“This study demonstrates very clearly that droughts are much more than just lack of rain and that the impacts of climate change strongly depend on how vulnerable we are,” said Friederike Otto, senior lecturer in climate science at Imperial College London.
“And one of the main findings of the recently released IPCC summary report is that we are much more vulnerable than we thought.”