Integrating forecast based action in an existing early warning system: Learning the context

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1.0 Background

1.0.1 Natural Disasters

Globally, natural disasters have continued to increase over time (Figure 1) and they are exacting a heavy toll on countries and vulnerable communities. Climate related disasters such as floods and droughts have become increasingly frequent since the late 1990s, pushing the average number of disasters per year to 329 in the last 20-years, this has doubled if compared to disasters experienced between 1978 and 1997 .

From 1998 to 2017 floods affected the highest number of people, estimated to be more than two billion while drought affected 1.5 billion people (Figure 2). Over the same period, climate-related disasters caused over US$ 2,245 billion losses, this increased from US$ 895 billion of losses reported between 1978 and 1997.

Floods are a rapid onset disaster, while drought develops slowly, worsens gradually, and results in destruction of livelihoods, economic loss and death if not properly addressed. Between 1994 and 2013, more than one billion people were affected by drought worldwide, with Africa, accounting for 41% of all drought events. Globally, drought events have increased in frequency (Figure 3), severity, duration and spatial extent. The frequent drought events significantly reduce recovery time for governments and communities hence threaten sustainable economic development by diminishing the ability of communities to absorb climatic shocks and adapt to a changing climate. Further, the rapid population growth in most parts of Africa is a challenge multiplier when it comes to impacts of drought.

In Kenya, a number of natural hazards are experienced, the most common being weather related, including floods, droughts, landslides, lightening/thunderstorms, wild fires, and strong winds. In the recent past these hazards have increased in number, frequency and complexity. The impacts of the hazards have become more severe with more deaths of people and animals, loss of livelihoods and destruction of infrastructure resulting in losses of varying magnitudes.

Drought is the most prevalent natural hazard in Kenya and is one of the biggest threats to Kenya’s Vision 2030. Drought mostly affects the Arid and Semi-Arid lands (ASALs) that represent more than 80% of Kenya’s landmass and support over 30% of the total population. Also, nearly half of the population whose livelihood is livestock rearing reside in the ASALs. Due to harsh weather conditions experienced in the ASALs, the fragile ecosystems, poor infrastructure and historical marginalisation communities are vulnerable to droughts.

In the recent past, the frequency of drought events in Kenya has increased to every 2-3 years. Additionally, drought is complex due to its cascading impacts that adversely affects almost all sectors of the economy, among others, agricultural production, public water supply, energy production, transportation, tourism, human health, biodiversity and natural ecosystem. These impacts develop slowly, and are often indirect and can linger for long times after the end of the drought itself. Drought impacts often result in severe economic losses, environmental damage and human suffering however, compared to impacts of other hazards like floods they are generally less visible and are not immediately quantifiable in economic terms. This points to the need for better drought risk management to mitigate its impacts on vulnerable communities, the economy and economic development.