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Date: Tue, 9 Nov 1999 22:07:57 -0600 (CST)
From: Mark Graffis &$60;ab758@virgin.vip.vi>
Subject: La Nina brings food crisis to Horn of Africa
Article: 81412
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: &$60;bulk.4760.19991110121533@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

La Nina brings food crisis to Horn of Africa

By Kieran Murray, Reuters News Service, 9 November 1999

NAIROBI—Two years after El Nino’s floods killed thousands of people and caused havoc across the Horn of Africa, little sister La Nina is destroying the region’s crops and threatening millions with starvation.

The La Nina weather phenomenon—which cools sea surface temperatures, leading to lower rainfalls—is spreading drought across eastern Africa and the Horn.

Only massive relief efforts are preventing disaster.

The United Nations says almost seven million Ethiopians now depend on food aid for their survival and a million people are at risk in Somalia.

Kenya has been forced to launch a huge relief operation for pastoral and agricultural communities in the north and east, central Tanzania has seen a collapse in its harvests, and areas of Rwanda, Uganda and Djibouti have also been hit.

Sudan is faring better than last year, when it suffered a devastating famine, but its southern war-torn areas still rely totally on United Nations air drops.

It is a fairly bleak picture, said Nick Maunder, regional representative of the US government’s Famine Early Warning System. The whole region is not looking good. We have a food crisis in every country.


Ironically, some of those areas suffering the most severe drought are those that were battered by El Nino in late 1997.

In the southern Somalia region of Bay and Bakool, about 3,000 people drowned or were killed by illnesses during the El Nino floods. La Nina is now bringing more misery.

U.N. officials say more than 20 percent of young children in the region are malnourished, and six or seven percent are severely malnourished. Sending much-needed food and medicine into remote communities has been made even more difficult this year by a surge in fighting between rival clan-based militias.

Insecurity is a major concern. It is very difficult to get food in and even the farmers who have cultivated cannot sell what they are producing, said Edouard Beigbeder, an emergency officer for the U.N. children’s fund, Unicef.

El Nino warms up the world’s oceans, leading to much heavier rainfalls than normal. It occurs roughly every seven years and is invariably followed by La Nina, which does the exact opposite, cooling the oceans and reducing rains.

Immediately after El Nino ravaged eastern Africa and the Horn in 1997, flooding agricultural lands and washing away roads and bridges, La Nina moved in to cool down the Indian Ocean.

The region has since seen a succession of failed rainy seasons and poor harvests.

In Kenya, there are already severe food shortages across northern and eastern regions and experts warn the situation will get dramatically worse if, as feared, the current rainy season fails and the drought lasts through to the middle of next year.

It is severe. In some areas, we have rains at only 10 percent of what they should be. I would call it a crisis, said Evans Mukolwe, director of the Kenya Meteorological Department. I believe this is the worst drought we have had.

The Kenyan government is currently distributing 6,000 tonnes of food a month to the hardest-hit regions from western areas which have a decent harvest because they rely on rain from Lake Victoria rather than the Indian Ocean.

But experts say Kenya will have a shortfall of at least 500,000 tonnes in its grains production for the year and will have to slash import duties early next year to make sure enough grain is imported to feed its people. A similar shortfall is expected in neighbouring Tanzania.


The Horn of Africa is no stranger to famine and millions of its people are so poor and their means of livelihood so precarious that any climatic change—whether flooding or drought—quickly pushes them over the edge.

It is made worse because people are getting poorer and poorer, Maunder said. In the past, they might be able to cope with fluctuations in rainfall but now they can’t do that.

It is a cumulative effect. People have lost their safety net. They have sold their possessions, sold their livestock and their chickens. They have nothing left, said Judith Lewis, the U.N. World Food Programme’s country director in Ethiopia.

About one million people are believed to have died in a drought which ravaged Ethiopia in 1984-85, and some 300,000 died in neighbouring Somalia in 1992-93.

Sudan has been in permanent crisis for well over a decade with civil war, starvation and disease killing an estimated 1.5 million people in the last 16 years. Tens of thousands of people died in the southern Bahr el Ghazal region last year in a famine caused by poor rains and vicious raiding by civil war rivals.

This year’s harvest in Sudan looks better but security experts say that any new bout of fighting could again plunge hundreds of thousands of people there into crisis.