Up to 100,000 people died in Somalia during the 2011 famine that devastated the Horn of Africa, and British scientists have reported that climate change is partly responsible. The short rains at the end of 2010 failed as a result of natural variations in weather caused by La Nina, Peter Stott of Britain’s Met Office told the Associated Press, but the early 2011 long rains that typically occur around March and April are said to have failed because of climate change.
From Drought to Famine
Oxfam International was one of many aid organizations on the ground during the drought that gripped Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in 2011. And then, as the crisis grew, the drought was officially upgraded to a famine.
But this was no happy upgrade. Tens of thousands of people flocked to refugee camps in Kenya seeking food when the failure of both the short and long rains eradicated all hope of food production. Many mothers were forced to bury their babies along the way, and many more never survived the arduous journey.
Somalia was particularly hard hit because al-Shabab – an Islamic extremist group that controls large areas of the country that were hit by the famine – either refused entry to aid workers or diverted resources for their own use.
At the time, environmentalists who have for decades warned governments that rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere would eventually alter climate patterns suspected that global warming played a role in this humanitarian crisis.
Those suspicions have been confirmed by scientists working with Britain’s weather service, who cite “very strong evidence” that increased levels of heat-trapping gases are partly to blame.
Stem Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Oxfam International’s Country Director Senait Gebregziabher warned that failure to stem the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere will further disrupt Somalia’s already unstable weather patterns, which would be disastrous given the pastoral population’s dependence on the land for their sustenance.
Sadly, this story is not limited to East Africa.
Last year thousands of people in the Sahel went hungry for similar reasons, the United States experienced the worst drought since the infamous dustbowl, as well as the worst wildfires on record, and Jordan’s water resources are drying up and the Kingdom’s residents subside on water levels that are far below those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).
This list goes on, but what to do?
I am writing this post on a KLM flight from the United States to Kenya, two years after the crisis began. This is my second cross-continental flight in two months, which means that despite all my meat-abstaining efforts, I am part of the problem. After all, the airline industry relies heavily on greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels for its survival.
Yet there are signs that change is afoot. KLM recently launched flights powered by biodiesel, and oil rich nations, such as Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are phasing in renewable energy generation at different rates.
There is no question that we are making the shift to a cleaner future. Germany is a leader in this endeavor and even some of the world’s smallest and least developed nations are getting on board. The question remains: can we make a global shift fast enough to avert more famines like the one in 2011?
Image of Somalian women at refugee camp, Shutterstock