This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.
East Africa's drought is the worst in sixty years. Scientists say the dry
conditions in the Horn of Africa are at least partly the result of an event half
a world away.
The event is called La Niña, which means "little girl" in Spanish. A La Niña
begins when waters become cooler than normal in the eastern Pacific Ocean near
the equator. Changes in wind currents can then affect weather around the world.
A related event, called an El Niño, happens when the waters become unusually
La Niñas and El Niños happen about every three to five years. The latest La
Niña began in July of last year and ended in May. The conditions can last for up
to two years.
Wassila Thiaw studies Africa for the Climate Prediction Center at the
National Weather Service in the United States. With a La Niña, Mr. Thiaw says
the easterly winds that are supposed to bring moisture into East Africa are
WASSILA THIAW: “There was less moisture coming into East Africa and therefore
rainfall is reduced.”
Starting late last year, rains that were supposed to fall over Somalia,
southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya failed. That part of the Horn of Africa has
a second rainy season from March through May. Mr. Thiaw says that one failed,
too, but for different reasons.
WASSILA THAW: “What played out here during the March-April-May season we do
not think that is really La Niña. But it [is] probably mostly due to the
atmospheric conditions that prevailed at that time.”
Mr. Thiaw says La Niña conditions might begin again by the end of this year.
And if that happens, he says, then the October-through-December rainy season
could again be dryer than normal.
Climate researcher Simon Mason at Columbia University in New York says East
Africa has been getting drier over about the last ten years. Mr. Mason says this
is at least partly the result of global warming. Rising temperatures in the
Indian Ocean create conditions that pull moisture away from East Africa.
Claudia Ringler at the International Food Policy Research Institute also
points to another issue. She said by Skype that much of the land in the
drought-affected areas is not very productive even in good times.
CLAUDIA RINGLER: “It will not get any better. Even if we have a bit more
rainfall, the general potential for more food production is not expected to
improve dramatically in the region.”
In the United States, the latest La Niña pushed moisture away from the south,
causing severe droughts. Texas has suffered billions of dollars in agricultural
losses. Changes in the winds pushed the rain toward northern states, causing
And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn
Watson and Steve Baragona. To find transcripts and MP3s of our programs, or to
post comments, visit our website voaspecialenglish.com. I’m Karen Leggett.