Influence of coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomena on the Greater Horn of Africa droughts and their implications
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Drought-like humanitarian crises in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHA) are increasing despite recent progress in drought monitoring and prediction efforts. Notwithstanding these efforts, there remain challenges stemming from uncertainty in drought prediction, and the inflexibility and limited buffering capacity of the recurrent impacted systems. The complexity of the interactions of ENSO, IOD, IPO and NAO, arguably remains the main source of uncertainty in drought prediction. To develop practical drought risk parameters that potentially can guide investment strategies and risk-informed planning, this study quantifies, drought characteristics that underpin drought impacts management. Drought characteristics that include probability of drought-year occurrences, durations, areal-extent and their trends over 11 decades (1903–2012) were derived from the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI).Transient probability of drought-year occurrences, modelled on Beta distribution, across the region ranges from 10 to 40%, although most fall within 20–30%. For more than half of the drought events, durations of up to 4, 7, 14 and 24 months for the 3-, 6-, 12- and 24-month timescales were evident, while 1 out of 10 events persisted for up to 18 months for the short timescales, and up to 36 months or more for the long timescales. Apparently, only drought areal-extent showed statistically significant trends of up to 3%, 1%, 3.7%, 2.4%, 0.7%, - 0.3% and - 0.6% per decade over Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, respectively. Since there is no evidence of significant changes in drought characteristics, the peculiarity of drought-like crises in the GHA can be attributed (at least in part) to unaccounted for systematic rainfall reduction. This highlights the importance of distinguishing drought impacts from those associated with new levels of aridity. In principle drought is a temporary phenomenon while aridity is permanent, a difference that managers and decision-makers should be more aware.
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