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Rising Indian Ocean temperatures will bring escalating drought - new report

Country Map - Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe
Recurrent drought conditions in southern Africa has seen millions go hungry
A new study on climate change has warned of escalating drought in southern Africa, directly linked to the warming of the Indian Ocean. According to the US-based National Centre for Atmospheric Research, since 1950 the Indian Ocean has warmed more than one degree Celsius; "well beyond the range expected from natural processes", but consistent with projected increases in greenhouse gas emissions. Previous computer simulation models had omitted Indian Ocean warming and, as a result, it was difficult to assess the magnitude of the drying that had actually occurred in the southern African region. "When the [research] models did include Indian Ocean warming, southern Africa consistently dried out. The models also project that by 2049, monsoons across southern Africa could be 10-20 percent drier than the 1950-1999 average," the researchers noted. The world's most developed countries are the leading producers of greenhouse gases - the United States pumps out around 25 percent of the world's total output, while the G8 nations together are responsible for about half the quantity. By comparison, the entire African continent produces roughly five percent. "Any significant climatic change in Africa, whether it be drought conditions or floods, has serious ramifications mainly because of the vulnerability of populations," Bruce Howitt, professor of climatology at the University of Cape Town, told IRIN. "It must be said, however, that the jury is still out on whether southern Africa will see recurrent droughts in coming years, because there are various ongoing natural processes which may impact on future weather patterns," he added. Since 2001 consecutive dry spells in southern Africa have led to serious food shortages. The drought of 2002/03 resulted in a food deficit of 3.3 million mt, with an estimated 14.4 million people in need of assistance. Last year a report by the University of Michigan warned that the region should prepare itself for recurring drought, likely to strike at least twice every decade. Although that study noted the benefits of expanding regional early warning systems, which would allow governments and aid agencies to respond timeously to those in need, there were concerns that not enough was being done to improve food production, distribution and marketing.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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