Rainfall Trends over Indian Ocean Put Africa in Peril

UCSB Study Projects Food Shortages Due to Climate Change

A recently released study conducted by UCSB geographers and published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that warming in the Indian Ocean caused by climate change is reducing the amount of rainfall on eastern Africa, which carries dangerous consequences for the food and other resources of the area. With food shortages already a problem in the region, the changing environment will undoubtedly have a compound effect on Africa’s political climate.

According to the study, over the last 20 years the rainfall on the eastern seaboard of Africa has declined by about 15 percent every year. At that rate, the research estimates that by 2030 the region could see as much as a 50 percent increase in undernourishment in the population.

Chris Funk, an associate researcher with UCSB’s Climate Hazards Group and co-author of the article, said in a press statement, “Our work suggests that greenhouse gas emissions, which have come mostly from wealthy, developed countries, already constitute an example of dangerous climate change.” The Climate Hazards Group specializes in analyzing climate data in relation to food security and production.

The study indicates that rising surface temperatures lead to an increase in rainfall over the Indian Ocean, which limits the amount of moisture that reaches land. This reduces the much-needed rainfall during the growing season in coastal African countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, and Zimbabwe. In addition, this anomaly brought dry air down onto the continent causing further harm to crops.

By charting data with climate software, researchers developed a variety of scenarios, almost all of which confirmed their hypothesis that if current conditions persist, rainfall over the Indian Ocean would increase and the situation for Africa would worsen.

However, one model held promise in the face of such adversity. Funk’s team developed a “food-balancing” model that took into account historical data related to population, terrain, and farming techniques and found that an increase in agricultural technology could yield a 40 percent reduction in undernourished people instead of the projected 50 percent increase. “There’s very little use of fertilizer or farm machinery,” said Funk, “Modest improvements in per capita agricultural capacity could substantially alleviate undernourishment, making Africa agriculturally self-supporting in 30 years.”

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