As drought deepens, African nations struggle to get globe’s attention

The South African sky above Ramoso Pholo’s fields is a glossy, postcard blue, drenching light over his neatly planted rows of corn, beans, and sunflowers. From a distance, it looks bucolic, but up close it is anything but.

For the past six months, Mr. Pholo has been waiting for clouds to blot this shimmering horizon and rains to soften his bone-dry fields. Instead, his neat rows of sunflowers have withered, and his corn stalks–normally as tall as he–are frozen waist-high.

“I have been farming my entire life and this is the worst season I have ever seen,” he says, cradling the head of a slumping sunflower. “About 99 percent of my crops are damaged–this year will be a total failure.”

The drought may be the worst Pholo has ever seen, but if forecasters are right, it may not be the worst he ever lives through. For climate scientists, the massive drought sweeping southern and eastern Africa since last year is an ominous signal of how climate change is driving extreme weather, threatening already vulnerable communities where climate and livelihood are closely intertwined.

The current dry weather, parched rivers, and crop failures here, the likes of which have not been seen in at least three decades, are linked to El Niño–a periodic warming of the Pacific Ocean–whose current iteration is one of the strongest ever recorded. El Niño occurs on average every three to five years.  But scientists say that rising greenhouse gas emissions are ratcheting up the incidence of super-charged El Niño years like this one. By the end of this century they’ll likely occur every 16 years instead of every 28–and Africa, the world’s poorest and most ecologically fragile continent, will bear much of the brunt.

[Christian Science Monitor]

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