By Paul Homewood
h/t Joe Public
There’s a drought in Kenya, and guess what – it’s YOUR FAULT:
KAKUMA, Kenya — These barren plains of sand and stone have always known lean times: times when the rivers run dry and the cows wither day by day, until their bones are scattered under the acacia trees. But the lean times have always been followed by normal times, when it rains enough to rebuild herds, repay debts, give milk to the children and eat meat a few times each week.
Times are changing, though. Northern Kenya — like its arid neighbors in the Horn of Africa, where Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson paid a visit last week, including a stop in Nairobi — has become measurably drier and hotter, and scientists are finding the fingerprints of global warming. According to recent research, the region dried faster in the 20th century than at any time over the last 2,000 years. Four severe droughts have walloped the area in the last two decades, a rapid succession that has pushed millions of the world’s poorest to the edge of survival.
Amid this new normal, a people long hounded by poverty and strife has found itself on the frontline of a new crisis: climate change. More than 650,000 children under age 5 across vast stretches of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are severely malnourished. The risk of famine stalks people in all three countries; at least 12 million people rely on food aid, according to the United Nations.
To get some historical perspective, let’s start by looking at a UN study into aridity in northern Kenya in 1979:
Note the reference to the Sahel drought in the 1970s, which extended into Kenya. As HH Lamb and others wrote at the time, this was at a time of global cooling, and droughts both across the Sahel and also into Asia were a direct result of a colder Arctic, which squeezed the global rainbelts closer to the tropics.
The study goes on to describe the climatology:
Clearly, rainfall is extremely variable in northern Kenya, but the wet years appear to be the exception to the rule.
This variability is evident in the next section:
Despite the severity of the 1970s drought, the authors suggest that it was little worse than other droughts in the 1920s and 30s.
How then do recent rainfall levels compare with these earlier droughts?
The evidence is incomplete. According to KNMI, data for Marsabit ends in 1995, and there us a gap in recent data for Moyale.
Nevertheless, the last few years of data does not indicate anything unusual or alarming is happening.
The droughts of the 1920s and 30s, along with the 1970s also stick out like a sore thumb:
The World Bank Climate Portal does have average rainfall stats for the country as a whole. While this does not necessarily track that of the northern part of the country, we can see a similar pattern, with droughts in the 1920s and 1970s particularly prominent. Also the much higher rainfall totals in 1961 and other years in that decade.
There have certainly been no unusual droughts since 2000. The NYT article states that “the lean times have always been followed by normal times, when it rains enough to rebuild herds”.
But the long term record suggests that those wetter years, which were occurred occasionally in the 1960s , were actually not normal at all, and were not a feature of Kenya’s climate prior to 1960.
Meanwhile agricultural output in Kenya has risen steadily since records began in 1961:
In reality, northern Kenya has long been at the edge of desertification. It may be that some of its inhabitants will migrate south, to where there is more food available and life is more comfortable..
No doubt they will then be classified as “climate refugees”. In fact they will simply be following the same pattern of migration from rural to urban areas that has characterised human history for centuries.