Apr 10, 2017

Climate conditions aren’t solely to blame for current famine in Africa

Somalia
Ethiopia
South Sudan
by
Tom Di Liberto
,
NOAA Climate.gov
Areas affected by various phases of food insecurity as of April 10, 2017. Conditions in South Sudan have deteriorated to famine, while Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen all have areas that qualify as Phase 4: Emergency. Map: Adapted from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network
Areas affected by various phases of food insecurity as of April 10, 2017. Conditions in South Sudan have deteriorated to famine, while Nigeria, Somalia, and Yemen all have areas that qualify as Phase 4: Emergency. Map: Adapted from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network

In late February, the United Nations declared parts of South Sudan to be in a state of famine, the first time the UN has used that declaration since a horrible famine engulfed Somalia six years ago in 2011. Now there are concerns that famine will spread in two other places in Africa—Nigeria and Somalia. Famine is often associated with drought, but climate conditions aren’t the whole story. As with a lot of human problems, it’s more complicated than that.

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You may have noticed that drought, lack of rainfall, high temperatures, or really anything related to weather and climate aren’t mentioned within the famine definitions. That is because famine is about food security and scarcity. Drought can certainly be a cause of and contribute to that scarcity. So can too much rain and flooding, which can destroy crops and keep food from reaching markets. But climate extremes aren’t the only reasons the food supply gets interrupted.