The Horn of Africa is currently (July 2011) experiencing its worst drought in 60 years, mainly affecting the countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti. People living in this part of the world are used to experiencing very dry spells of weather, but several factors have combined to create serious conditions this year.
There are usually two rainy seasons: March-May and November-December. The rains at the end of last year were way below average, as were the spring rains this year. It is thought the drought was exacerbated by the atmospheric phenomenon known as La Niña
. The temperature of the Pacific Ocean dropped by 1 to 1.5 degrees Celsius - a huge change covering a large area of the globe and resulting in extreme weather conditions (such as the floods in Australia in January). Whilst La Niña has now eased, further rains in this region are not expected for a few months, and they may not be sufficient to ease the drought.
It is not clear to what extent global warming has been a factor - according to a recent Guardian article
opinions are divided as to whether this would cause this region to become wetter, or in fact increase drought. But aid agencies report that in recent years the weather in the region has been more erratic and extreme, making life difficult for people living off the land.
Drought alone does not inevitably result in a crisis. The people of this region have lived with periods of drought for generations and developed strategies to deal with it. But years of conflict in Somalia, for example, have seriously hindered development, hampered the distribution of aid, and caused disruptive shifts in population as refugees move across the region. The drought has also driven up food prices, making matters even worse for already impoverished people. Whilst emergency aid is important now, the world needs to work together to find a lasting solution.