12 million imperiled by crop failure in Africa: Why?

A month ago, in England, one could not pick up a newspaper without reading about the 12 million people who are imperiled by drought and starvation in the Horn of Africa. 

So this morning it's good to see a major American newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, put the story of the worst famine in the world in twenty years on its front page, complete with harrowing pictures. 

But it's a little frustrating that the story never even glances at the root cause of the frequently-mentioned drought.

Could it be climate change? 

After all, leading climatologists such as Kevin Trenberth have frequently warned that the sub-Saharan Africa will dry out in the decades to come. And respected NGOs such as Oxfam have linked climate change to rising food prices already this year. 

So it's good to see the Voice of America take a look at the question, though the story doesn't come to a clear conclusion.

Some scientists point the finger at a familiar culprit: La Niña.

Others say climate change may be a factor — possibly:

Columbia University climate scientist Simon Mason says the human factor in the Horn’s climate woes is less clear.

"East Africa is one of our big perplexing areas for the moment," Mason says.

Several groups around the world have developed computer models to predict how increasing greenhouse gases will change the climate.

"Most of the models are actually suggesting that East Africa will become wetter," Mason says. "However, if we look at what's been happening in East Africa at least for the last decade or so, it's actually been getting quite a lot drier."

Mason says that drying trend is at least partly due to global warming, which is contributing to rising temperatures in the Indian Ocean. That creates conditions that draw moisture away from East Africa.

But the suffering is clear, as in this picture of refugees in Somalia, hoping to be allowed into a camp.


Perhaps that's why the Times story stayed away from the science. 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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