Climate Change

Rainfall variation resulted in long periods of droughts, floods in southern Ethiopia: Study

Increasing trends seen in mean maximum and mean minimum temperature over last two decades posed a threat to agriculture, livestock production, water supply and food security

By Susan Chacko
Published: Friday 18 June 2021
Study shows significant variation in rainfall, temperature trends in southern Ethiopia. Photo: WIkimedia Commons

Southern Ethiopia underwent extended bouts of floods and droughts in the last two decades. Now, researchers have blamed them on significant variations in rainfall.

The African country experienced a dip in rainfall of about 60.86 millimetre per year from 1995-2016. This posed a serious threat to agriculture, livestock and food security. As much as 80 per cent of the country’s population are farmers dependent on rain-fed agriculture.

The results were shared in a recent study published in journal Climate. 

The country saw a decline of 2-9 per cent in economic performance between 1991 and 2010 due to the impacts of climate-related extremes.

The study was conducted in the Bilate sub-watershed, one of the inland rivers in southern Ethiopia with a bimodal rainfall.

The main rainy season (Kiremt) rainfall extends from mid-June to September-end whereas the short rainy season (Belg) extends from February-end to May-end; the dry season extends from October to the beginning of February.

The study looked at trends and variability of seasonal and annual rainfall and temperature data over southern Ethiopia using time series analysis for the period 1983-2016.

The farmers in the study area practice mixed crop livestock farming where cereals, legumes, root crops, and perennial crops like enset are among the main crops grown.

The region witnessed considerable rainfall variability and change that resulted in extended periods of drought and flood events. Previous studies have also shown that southern Ethiopia experienced extreme rainfall events.

The study showed a decreasing trend in Belg rainfall, which may have been caused by atmospheric-oceanic processes that influence rainfall in the region. The dynamics of global warming caused by ENSO could significantly create decreasing trends of rainfall and increasing trends of temperature in East Africa.

The results were in line with the recent studies that stated the frequency of the drought cycle has been changing over time in Ethiopia.

Most drought years were associated with the El Nino events, whereas wet years coincided with La Nina years. For instance, 2015 was considered as one of the driest years in the history of Ethiopia, adversely impacting the Belg and Kiremt seasons due to the El Nino effect. This resulted in crop failure, death of livestock and food insecurity.

The driest months were observed in April 1984, July 1987, August 1986, May 1989, Jun 1995, March 2000, Jun 2014, April, and June 2015. These months with respective years have been concurring.

Excess rainfall distribution was observed in February 1990, December 1989 and 2002, November 1997, 2008, and August 2010.

The minimum temperature increase trend was greater than maximum temperature trend of the study area for the last 34 years.

An analysis by Down to Earth, which looked at the temperature anomalies, indicated that Africa had experienced extreme heat in the last two decades.

The study flagged the need to focus on socioeconomic priorities: Food security, creation of income and enterprise opportunities for the youth and economic expansion. Initiatives such as EU-UNEP Africa Low Emissions Development Project demonstrated how climate action commitments/Nationally Determined Contributions could be implemented through mitigation and adaptation actions which could create both climate and environmental benefits and also bring about socioeconomic dividends.

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