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Killer Drought in Africa

Posted by feww on July 15, 2009

Drought is the biggest environmental catastrophe facing Africa

A weak rainy season lead to water food shortages in most parts of Africa, especially Kenya, which entered a state of emergency with about a third of the country’s 32 million population requiring food aid.

The drought also meant low water levels in reservoirs, water rationing and power cuts. The Masinga hydroelectric dam was closed down after low water levels in the reservoir could not sustain power generation.

The following images show how plants responded to the poor rainfall during the rainy season in 2009.

Drought in Africa

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Rainfall Anomaly (2009 season)



Cumulative Rainfall, Masinga Dam, Kenya

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Africa’s Sahel region,
a belt of fertile grassland, thrives or fails depending on seasonal rainfall. In dry years, little grows, and those who depend on rain to grow crops in the Sahel may face hunger.

Above images show rainfall during the long rainy season in 2009.  The top image, made from data collected by the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) flying on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Polar Orbiting Environmental Satellite NOAA-17, shows the condition of plants in June 2009 compared to previous Junes. In areas that are brown, plants were growing less then the  2003 and 2008 average. Green areas indicate better-than-average growth, while cream-colored areas indicate about average growth.

The poor growth in June 2009 is a result of the weak rainy season. Low seasonal rains, which usually come between March and June, resulted in drought this year. Made from a combination of satellite and rain gauge measurements, the middle image shows the extent of the rainfall deficit between March and June. Areas in brown received less rain than average, while blue areas received more rain. The average was calculated from rainfall observed between March and June from 1995 through 2008. The northern Sahel and East Africa were drier than normal throughout the 2009 rainy season.

The graph illustrates why water levels were so low at Masinga Dam in 2009 compared to the long-term average and other recent years. Each line shows how the rainy season developed between March and June. 1997 was an unusually wet year, with about 75 millimeters more rain than average by the end of June. The last year when rainfall reached normal levels was 2006. In 2009, the rainy season didn’t start until late March and less rain fell throughout the season. By the end of June, Masinga Dam had only received about 100 millimeters of rain, about 125 mm less than average and 200 mm less than in 1997. If conditions improve, Kenya’s next rainy season will likely begin in September or October and will last through November or December.

Images created by Jesse Allen, using GIMMS NOAA-17 AVHRR and Africa Rainfall Estimate data provided by Ed Pak, Jennifer Small and Assaf Anyamba, NASA GIMMS Group at Goddard Space Flight Center. Caption by Holli Riebeek with information from Assaf Anyamba. Images acquired March 1, 2009 – June 30, 2009. [Caption edited for brevity by FEWW. ]

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