Will Somalia get enough rain this year?
Thursday, March 28, 2013
Parts of southern Somalia are yet to recover from the battering they
took in 2010-2011, when severe drought followed excessive rain, and now
the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) says insufficient
rain may fall in the coming months. "We are concerned - our forecast
shows that there is 80 percent probability that rains could trend from
normal to below normal across Somalia," said Gideon Galu, a regional
FEWS NET scientist based in Africa.
The situation appears to be particularly bleak in southern Somalia, where rains during June/July are likely to be inadequate.
But the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said they were
“somehow optimistic”. "This is a seasonal climate forecast which will
depend very much on the spatial and temporal distribution of the rains
during the season," said Hussein Gadain, chief technical advisor at FAO.
"In fact, we expect some areas might even be flooded, especially along
the Shabelle River, where farmers cut the… [banks] for irrigation."
Accurately predicting the weather and its possible impact is tricky, and
even more so in a year marked by the absence of strong climatic signals
from the oceans. Phenomena like La Niña, when sea surface temperatures
are cooler, or El Niño, when they are warmer, are part of the normal
climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean and occur once every four to seven
years. They can also provide clues as to how the weather may behave.
Somalia has two distinct rainy seasons. The first is 'Gu', the long
rains from March to June that support the main cropping season. The
second is 'Deyr', the short rains, which occur at different times across
the country but usually from October to November, according to FAO.
"Normally, the climatic conditions in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean (El
Nino and La Nina) tend to affect the Deyr rains more than the Gu rains,
which are affected by the Somali Jet [a narrow wind-stream running north
along the east African coast] and the conditions in the western Indian
Ocean,” Gadain noted.
Galu said FEWS-NET uses an analogue year - when a similar forecast has
been made - to build a picture of the likely impact on agriculture. "The
year we used as a reference - especially 2002 (the most likely
scenario) indicates that rainfall distribution during the coming months
is also expected to be erratic in both space and time," but he added
that no two seasons/years can be exactly the same.
Some parts of southern Somalia received good Deyr rains between October
and December in 2012, and farmers have managed to harvest an almost
average crop of sorghum, but FAO noted that the agro-pastoral areas of
Gedo, in the southwest, as well as Lower and Middle Juba, the country’s
southernmost regions, received inadequate rainfall.
The severe drought in the Horn of Africa in 2010/11 displaced millions
of people and left tens of thousands dead, and led the United Nations to
declare a famine in parts of southern Somalia.
"We are particularly concerned, as the same communities - who have not
really had sufficient time to recover - could be affected by
insufficient rains," said Galu. "Crop yield prospects in southern
Somalia, particularly for the rainfed cropping areas, are likely to be
reduced in [the] case of below-normal rainfall amounts and erratic
distribution during the season."