The latest famine in Somalia has put a spotlight on the urgent need to develop national and regional drought policies, according to the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, which are jointly leading the international action to address the growing impact of droughts.
Drought is expected to continue in hard-hit southern Somalia during August and September, as well as parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, according to the latest WMO Climate Outlook Forum for the region, which provides regional climate forecasts. The IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) already called for preparedness for an ongoing long period of drought over parts of the equatorial region in its climate update for the Greater Horn of Africa on 15 January 2011.
Droughts have become more common over the past two decades. This is consistent with reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, stating that the world has become more drought-prone over the last 25 years, and will see an increased frequency of droughts in the future.
“Droughts do not happen overnight,” said Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), responding to the declaration of famine by the United Nations earlier this month. “The UNCCD joins the calls on the international community to respond urgently to this crisis.
At the same time, we stress the need for effective, long-term solutions to the root causes of famine in drought-prone regions, such as implementation of drought management systems and measures to stop desertification, which means land degradation in drylands.”
“We are moving forward quickly to provide integrated drought information to help decision-makers deal with drought, such as the one underway right now in East Africa,” said Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization. “Drought is a serious and growing problem in many countries. Adaptation to drought, desertification and climate change urgently needs to be mainstreamed in national development policies.”
Mr Gnacadja visited Mr Jarraud at WMO earlier this month to discuss cooperation between the two organizations, following the UN declaration of famine for two provinces in southern Somalia on 13 July 2011. The two organizations have a long-standing partnership. Most recently they have championed the use of the Standard Precipitation Index, as a universal meteorological drought index to improve monitoring and climate risk management among countries.
“It’s high time for UN joint action on droughts,” said Mr Jarraud. “We need more coordinated action for monitoring and early warning systems that deliver timely information to decision-makers; improved impact assessment procedures; pro-active risk management measures and preparedness plans; and stronger emergency response programmes.”
WMO is working with its scientific network to offer the best policy advice available on drought management. A WMO international meeting on national drought policies, hosted by George Mason University (USA) on 14-15 July 2011, outlined steps for countries to learn from each other to reduce drought risks. WMO is compiling a “best-practices” compendium to help countries move rapidly to develop their own national drought policies appropriate to their local conditions.
As part of this process, WMO and UNCCD will lead international discussions in November to build integrated drought information systems. To this end, the two organizations, along with Morocco’s national meteorological service and the US National Integrated Drought Information System, are organizing an international symposium in Casablanca, Morocco from 9 to 11 November 2011.