By Gift Briton

By the second week of October, most areas across Eastern Africa are set to start receiving heavy rains fueled by El Niño condition, Dr. Geoffrey Sabiiti- climatology and adaptation officer at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)’s Climate Prediction and Application Centre (ICPAC) notes.

Dr. Sabiiti says that normally, during the October to December (OND) season, most parts across the region receive average rainfall enough to enhance soil moisture and agriculture production.

However, this year, the rains will likely be enhanced and above normal across most parts of the region. This is due to the impacts of El Niño condition that tends to disrupt weather patterns globally, including causing above-normal rains during the OND season across eastern Africa.

What is El Niño? 

El Niño is a weather pattern that begins in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Normally, warm water/sea-surface temperatures are confined to the western side of the equatorial Pacific Ocean by winds that blow from east to west.

However, during El Niño, the winds slow down and can reverse direction, allowing the warmer water to spread to the eastern side, lasting for weeks or months.

The warming up of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean changes the weather patterns around the globe and can cause extreme weather events such as enhanced rainfall in Eastern Africa.

According to Dr. Sabiiti, although El Niño will generally intensify rainfall across most parts of the region, the rainfall will be more intense in southern Ethiopia, most of Somalia, and parts of eastern Kenya.

Furthermore, the El Niño condition is likely to prolong the rains through January 2024, with the rainfall peak likely to be experienced in November this year.

“This EL NINO is going to continue beyond this season. It will go up to March 2024 which is an indication that the rainfall season might be prolonged. The rainfall season might be longer than the three months but of course not very heavy and there could be off-season rainfall in January next year,” he adds.

Risks Associated with Above Normal Rains

The expected above-normal rains will likely pose several regional risks, especially for agriculture. Dr. Sabiiti says that above-normal rains are mostly associated with increased pests and locusts, which might affect crops.

He adds that enhanced rainfall will likely cause flooding and waterlogging, particularly in wet and low-land areas. This will hugely affect the production of early maturing and short crops, such as beans and peas, and crops grown in wetland areas, such as rice.

Heavy rains are also likely to hinder transportation and affect post-harvest handling of crops. Moreover, the expected flooding in flood-prone and lowland areas will likely cause rift valley fever in livestock, leading to their death. According to Dr. Sabiiti, all these risks may exacerbate food insecurity in the region.

“We need to call upon the different actors, including the humanitarians to work with governments and regional organizations to put measures to minimize losses that are expected,” he opines.

Dr. Sabiiti adds: “People should invest in agriculture as much as possible and plant crops that are recommended by the extension workers and not use too much fertilizers during this season because these are one of the ways we can reduce the number of people who are food insecure.”

Additionally, he has urged people to plant trees during this rainy season and to further pay attention to the updates and advisories on the likely weather patterns given by various national weather departments in the regions.