Predicting and Mitigating Droughts in Africa
Although natural disasters such as earthquakes,
typhoons and tornadoes are often covered more extensively by media outlets,
droughts often have the most devastating impact in many parts of the world,
particularly developing nations in Africa. Families in some parts of Africa are dependent
on agriculture for survival, and droughts, particularly in East Africa, can
create food insecurities, leading to serious and prolonged consequences for
Predicting droughts has
been a long-term challenge, but some progress is being made. The U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) set up the Famine Early Warning System Network
(FEWS NET) after the 1984-85 Ethiopian drought; it has tracked East Africa's
climate and vegetation data over the past 15 years and is now capable of
projecting low rainfall, which is often a leading cause of drought.
Watching the Skies: Droughts
According to the World
Meteorological Organization (WMO), droughts are one of the causes of poverty and can have serious implications for impoverished families. As droughts severely affect crop yields, food insecurity
is one of the greatest challenges facing people in drought-stricken areas,
leading to malnutrition and vulnerability to disease.
In addition, severe
droughts in Africa can displace large numbers of people, placing additional strain on
already-limited resources in areas that aren't directly affected by drought. With food insecurity and an impending water crisis, the risk of communicable
diseases spreading throughout the population increases.
Another effect drought
can have on an area is the displacement of health workers. As water becomes
increasingly scarce, health care professionals are often forced to relocate to
other areas due to the difficulties of operating in a region affected by
drought. This can further jeopardize the health of children and families living
in poverty in Africa.
A Unified Approach
The problem of drought in Africa is so serious, many senior officials at the World Health Organization and other
groups have called for heightened
awareness of drought's impact on developing nations, focusing more on
prevention and preparation, rather than just reaction.
"[Our] experience shows
that sound policies grounded in science and shared knowledge are the first, and
the best, line of defense against drought and the basic foundation for drought
risk management," said Ann Tutwiler, special representative of José Graziano da
Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization, speaking at a
high-level meeting to address drought awareness in March 2013. "We must boost
national capacity to cope before a drought occurs, preventing the decline into
disaster. Unless we secure a shift towards such policies, we face the prospect
of repeated humanitarian catastrophe stemming from drought, and the persistent
threat drought poses to global food security."
Adapting to the Effects of Drought
predicting drought is challenging, some countries, such as Ethiopia,
are adopting a proactive approach to coping with severe climate conditions.
Drought is one of the most serious causes of food insecurity in Ethiopia, and
the country has a high infant mortality rate due to malnutrition and other
factors that can stem from prolonged periods of low rainfall.
However, some farmers
have turned to crop diversification in order to mitigate the potential damage of
drought. Although not typically considered a staple crop in Ethiopia, potatoes
are becoming an increasingly popular choice for many farmers because of their drought resistant nature. According to researchers at Cornell
University, fewer than 74,000 acres of potatoes were grown in Ethiopia in 1970,
compared to 395,000 acres today. Also, ChildFund provides
water-catchment containers and borehole wells that prevent a major water crisis during dry seasons.
experts and global development agencies are working to alleviate the impact of
drought in Africa and elsewhere, but there is much to be done. One way to help
is to make a donation to ChildFund's Essentials for Survival fund, which
provides children in greatest need with water, food and health care.