Will Somalia get enough rain this year?

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Another drought would affect crops and livestock (file photo) © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

JOHANNESBURG, 28 March 2013 (IRIN) - Parts of southern Somalia are yet to recover from the battering they took in 2010-2011, when severe drought followed excessive rain, and now the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) says insufficient rain may fall in the coming months. "We are concerned - our forecast shows that there is 80 percent probability that rains could trend from normal to below normal across Somalia," said Gideon Galu, a regional FEWS NET scientist based in Africa.

The situation appears to be particularly bleak in southern Somalia, where rains during June/July are likely to be inadequate. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said they were "somehow optimistic". "This is a seasonal climate forecast which will depend very much on the spatial and temporal distribution of the rains during the season," said Hussein Gadain, chief technical advisor at FAO. "In fact, we expect some areas might even be flooded, especially along the Shabelle River, where farmers cut the. [banks] for irrigation."

Accurately predicting the weather and its possible impact is tricky, and even more so in a year marked by the absence of strong climatic signals from the oceans. Phenomena like La Niña, when sea surface temperatures are cooler, or El Niño, when they are warmer, are part of the normal climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean and occur once every four to seven years. They can also provide clues as to how the weather may behave.

Somalia has two distinct rainy seasons. The first is 'Gu', the long rains from March to June that support the main cropping season. The second is 'Deyr', the short rains, which occur at different times across the country but usually from October to November, according to FAO.

"Normally, the climatic conditions in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean (El Nino and La Nina) tend to affect the Deyr rains more than the Gu rains, which are affected by the Somali Jet [a narrow wind-stream running north along the east African coast] and the conditions in the western Indian Ocean," Gadain noted.

Galu said FEWS-NET uses an analogue year - when a similar forecast has been made - to build a picture of the likely impact on agriculture. "The year we used as a reference - especially 2002 (the most likely scenario) indicates that rainfall distribution during the coming months is also expected to be erratic in both space and time," but he added that no two seasons/years can be exactly the same.

Some parts of southern Somalia received good Deyr rains between October and December in 2012, and farmers have managed to harvest an almost average crop of sorghum, but FAO noted that the agro-pastoral areas of Gedo, in the southwest, as well as Lower and Middle Juba, the country's southernmost regions, received inadequate rainfall.

The severe drought in the Horn of Africa in 2010/11 displaced millions of people and left tens of thousands dead, and led the United Nations to declare a famine in parts of southern Somalia.

"We are particularly concerned, as the same communities - who have not really had sufficient time to recover - could be affected by insufficient rains," said Galu. "Crop yield prospects in southern Somalia, particularly for the rainfed cropping areas, are likely to be reduced in [the] case of below-normal rainfall amounts and erratic distribution during the season."