Somalia’s “mis-government” has turned a brutal drought into a horrific famine. But “if it weren’t in drought, it wouldn’t be in famine,” as Dr. Chris Funk, one of the world’s foremost authorities on East African drought explained to me in an exclusive interview today.
And Funk’s work provides strong evidence that global warming has exacerbated the drought.
Funk, a US Geological Survey scientist and founding member of UC Santa Barbara’s Climate Hazard Group, deserves our attention because he is “part of a group of scientists that successfully forecast the droughts behind the present crisis,” as he explained in an August article in Nature.
In Dadaab in northeastern Kenya, the IRC gives fortified food to malnourished young children whose families are fleeing drought and famine in Somalia. Photo: Peter Biro/IRC
You might assume bloggers who write about East Africa — confusionists who falsely assert that “Those who are familiar with Somalia’s recent history and current state of affairs do not mention climate change as a relevant factor to the country’s latest tragedy” — would actually read the relevant scientific journals. But I find again and again that many people writing on the subject just don’t know what they’re talking about or even bother to spend even a minute or two googling the subject.
I have been reviewing the literature on drought in the past few weeks for a major article on Dust-bowlification invited by a leading science journal. It will be published next week!
It seems increasingly clear that global warming is exacerbating the East African drought in a number of ways. As Funk explained to me, the sea surface temperature [SST] rise in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific in recent decades are “well-correlated with global temperatures.” This is an area where “models and observations agree.”
Funk examined the historical data to show that those rising SSTs have already had serious consequences for East Africa — in a 2010 journal article he co-authored, “A westward extension of the warm pool leads to a westward extension of the Walker circulation, drying eastern Africa.” Here is how Nature summarized its findings in a January piece: