Fifth consecutive ‘failed’ rainy season in East Africa predicted

Meteorological and climate projection expertise at the Met Office is not just confined to the UK, we have a number of experts working in regions around the world. A key region where this expertise is vital is Eastern Africa, where the population is particularly vulnerable to environmental fluctuations. In this blog, Met Office Scientific Manager (Seasonal to Climate Applications) Tammy Janes explains what the Met Office does in the region and why it is so important with the prospect of a fifth consecutive ‘failed’ rainy season.  

What the Met Office does in East Africa

Met Office scientists like myself have been working alongside colleagues in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) for over a decade to better understand and predict key rainy seasons for the region, helping to develop the skill of local seasonal forecasters and decision-makers to deliver actionable seasonal advice for the protection of lives and livelihoods.

We work in collaboration with the IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) which is the designated Regional Climate Centre for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Along with counterparts from 11 National Meteorological Services, ICPAC lead the production of seasonal forecasts based on an analysis of several global climate model predictions customised for the Greater Horn of Africa.

A key focus point of our work here is a triannual summit called the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum (GHACOF) which brings together a range of seasonal climate specialists as well as stakeholders from across sectors including agriculture, energy, water and many more.

Our support to the GHACOF process has involved delivering training programmes, engaging with sector-users, and promoting the use of robust and verifiable scientific methods in the forecasting process. The latest GHACOF meeting took place in Mombasa just last week (23-26 August 2022) and I was there in person with my colleague Scott for the first time since January 2020. We attended alongside colleagues from the Met Office-managed Weather and Climate Information Services (WISER) programme, which has supported over 3.3 million households to better access weather and climate information services in the region for the past seven years, helping to improve resilience to weather and climate related shocks.   

GHACOF-62 was a fantastic opportunity to strengthen existing relationships and build new ones. We were involved in some of the side events at the conference and Scott delivered a key talk on the current and predicted state of climate drivers that are well known to impact the upcoming ‘short rains’ during October to December.

Met Office Scientist Scott Burgan presenting at GHACOF-62

What the latest outlooks are saying

The latest outlook released by ICPAC is showing a high likelihood of below normal rainfall for East Africa during the upcoming October to December short rains, particularly in the drought affected regions of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. This is largely being driven by the combined effect of a predicted continuation of current La Niña conditions and a negative Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). The ICPAC outlook is consistent with the Met Office seasonal outlook for Africa which has also just been updated.

This outlook is so important because parts of the region, including coastal Kenya, central/southern Somalia and central Ethiopia, have experienced four consecutive ‘failed’ rainy seasons since 2020, and a fifth ‘failed’ October-December rainy season would drive further deterioration of an already stressed humanitarian system.

Unprecedented situation

The October to December season in the equatorial parts of the Greater Horn of Africa contributes up to 70% of the annual total rainfall, particularly in eastern Kenya. The consecutive below average, or ‘failed’ rains are causing an unprecedented situation in what has been the longest drought in 40 years, suggesting that extreme weather and climate events are getting more extreme

The fear is that the strategies that have been put in place previously to cope with these sorts of events may not be enough to protect the lives and livelihoods of vulnerable communities in the Greater Horn of Africa with year-on-year deterioration.

Dire consequences

The impacts of prolonged lower than average rainfall are varied and significant. The predicted below-average October-December season would drive a deterioration of an already dire food security and malnutrition situation in 2023. Over 50 million people are expected to face high levels of food insecurity.

Irrespective of rainfall between October and December, conditions will not recover quickly enough to see food security improvements before mid-2023. A rapid scaling up of action is needed now to save lives and avert starvation and death. Dr.Guleid Artan, Director of ICPAC, said, “In Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, we are on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe”.

A recent statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN highlighted that “current appeals to respond to the drought remain well underfunded” and that the “drought response needs to be increased immediately to prevent the already severe food emergency, including a risk of famine in Somalia, from deteriorating into an even more dire situation.”

Ongoing support

Alongside other science colleagues at the Met Office, we will continue working with our African partners to provide important support to help decision makers and humanitarian organisations act on what is ahead.

At COP26 in Glasgow last November, the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) announced additional funding for the WISER programme in Africa.

WISER has worked in East Africa and the Sahel to deliver transformational change in the access and use of weather and climate information services to people and organisations including National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs). It delivered over £200million in socio-economic benefits during that time, including enabling improved protection of property, livelihoods and even saving lives through its projects.

The WISER programme is now expanding into additional regions through its WISER Africa programme, including West and Southern Africa, as well as the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) through WISER MENA. It is currently in its scoping phase, with projects expected to begin in early 2023. To find out more about WISER, visit the WISER webpages on the Met Office website.

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