Published in May 2016

Sand Dams Worldwide's Programmes Officer Emma Seal reports on the impact of (and our response to) La Niña, a period which in eastern Africa is associated with prolonged, severe drought.

The recent meteorological report released by the Kenyan Environment State Department brings grim predictions for the coming months.

Extreme weather patterns began in 2015 with the coming of El Niño, a warm phase which brings acute droughts interspersed by enhanced rainfall. In June 2016, the UN’s Food Security and Nutrition Working Group reported close to 24 million people facing critical food insecurity due to El Niño in the Horn of Africa.

The sister of this process is La Niña, a period which in eastern Africa is associated with prolonged, severe drought. In 1999 UNOCHA estimated La Niña to have impacted at least 31.5 million people in eastern Africa.

Self-help groups that we work with in Kenya face huge challenges ahead and will be working very hard to continue their water and soil conservation activities. Communities are very aware of the increased hardship and have begun planning with the Africa Sand Dam Foundation, Sand Dams Worldwide’s partner in south-eastern Kenya, to ensure contingency options are in place where rains and crops fail.

Local government is also providing support by assisting with sand dam construction, material collection, and encouraging crop sales. Peter Kamuta of Ngao ya Kiome self-help group spoke of the need for a second provision of seeds to community members in order to ease the burden on farmers.

The worst of the Niño/Niña events have occurred only twice in the past 70 years, with 2015-16 calculated to have been the beginning of the third. The extremity of the effects depends on many factors, including the length of time between the end of El Niño and the start of La Niña. The shorter the gap, the more severe the weather pattern.

With La Niña expected to begin almost directly after its precursor, there are growing concerns about the impact on food and water security. The Kenyan government’s outlook for Sand Dams Worldwide’s project areas is for delayed, minimal rainfall with extended dry periods throughout 2017.

Now, more than ever, local people in these arid and semi-arid areas will be struggling to survive in the face of failing water supplies and fields of desiccated crops. The sand dams they have built assist in the mitigation of water insecurity in a changing climate and will provide vital water sources to families.

Coupled with agricultural support in the form of training, drought-tolerant seeds and the application of effective farming techniques, we will continue to support self-help groups through the difficulties brought by El Niño and La Niña, and beyond.

Please donate what you can today to support Kenyan farming communities to build sand dams and adapt their planting habits, ensuring they are still able to feed their families in the face of the changing climate.

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