IRI Climate Digest
Climate Impacts - December
Contributions to this page were made by IRI researchers
Dr. M. Hopp,
Dr. T. Kestin,
Dr. B. Lyon,
Dr. A. Seth,
Africa - Zimbabwe and Zambia
Among the countries in southern Africa currently facing food shortages, Zimbabwe and Zambia appear to be in the most precarious position.
According to the FAO, about 2.9 million people in Zambia are facing food shortages, and about 6.7 million people in Zimbabwe (about half the
population) will require emergency food aid by March (IRIN). As of late December, Zambia had received less than 10 percent of its grain import
requirements, and faced a shortage of 617,000 metric tons. Zimbabwe had a grain shortage of 907,000 metric tons (IRIN). Additionally,
the rainy season for the next harvest has not begun well in many parts of the two countries. Rainfall in Zimbabwe for October-December was
only 40 to 60 percent of normal. Dry conditions in both countries in late November severely damaged early-planted crops. In Zimbabwe, the area
planted with food crops by mid-December was only 50 percent of the average during the 1990s, and the area planted with cash crops was only 25 percent of
average (FEWS; FEWS). There have also been reports of nearly 15,000 cattle starving to death during October-December
in southern Zimbabwe due to drought conditions there (AFP).
Africa - Eritrea
According to a statistical analysis by UNICEF of several nutritional surveys done in Eritrea over the last six months, one-fifth of the
approximately 3.34 million person population is experiencing food shortages. Malnutrition has reached "critical" or "emergency" conditions in the provinces of Anseba, Gash
Barka, and Northern Red Sea. According to WHO, a critical situation is one in which more than 15 percent of children under five years of age are
acutely malnourished. In the Northern Red Sea province, 23 to 27 percent of children were suffering acute malnutrition. Over 200,000 women
and children need immediate emergency food aid in order to survive. In a Food Security Warning issued on 3 January, FEWS reported that the
country produced less than 10 percent of its cereal needs during 2002, cereal production being more than 70 percent below a recent 10-year average. Rain
failed in both the March-May and June-September rainy seasons, drastically reducing agricultural production and the availability of fodder for
livestock, whose populations have dropped by as much as 20 percent since 2001 in some regions. Water for consumption by people and livestock has
become increasingly scarce as well. (IRIN, IRIN, IRIN)
Africa - Southern Africa
There are still large food deficits in most of the countries in Southern Africa affected by the drought during the
2001-02 rainy season, in spite of continuing appeals for food aid by relief organizations. While Zimbabwe and
Zambia appear to be in the worst shape (see report), FEWS estimated in late December that cereal shortages of
79 500 metric tons, 262 000 metric tons, and 50 000 metric tons existed in Lesotho, Malawi, and Swaziland,
respectively. Of the approximately 40 million
people currently in need of food aid in sub-Saharan Africa, about 16.7 million live in southern Africa (FAO).
Early rains in late October, followed by a
dry period during November meant that many farmers,
particularly in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Zambia, were deceived by a false start to the rainy season which
damaged early-planted crops (FEWS, FEWS, FEWS). Planting or re-planting has occurred with the return of
improved rainfall in December, but the late start means that crops will also be maturing later in the crop calendar.
The delayed onset of the rains might also translate into a shortened growing season.
At the beginning of January,
the national disaster agency of Mozambique, a country which has been plagued in recent years by both drought (2002) and flooding (2001 & 2002), announced a drastic increase in the estimated number of people who will require food aid -- from 600 000 to
1.4 million (IRIN). In Lesotho, as in other locations in southern Africa, shortages of available or affordable seed
and fertilizer contributed to the late planting of crops, and a reduction in the area under cultivation. Lesotho has
also been plagued by a range of particularly poor weather conditions (IRIN).
According to one estimate (AFP), the
poor weather and delay in planting may result in a decline in maize production this season in South Africa, which
was an important source of maize throughout southern Africa during the last year. In an assessment of the progress of the
South African maize crop, released 14 January, the USDA reduced its production forecast down to 8.0 million tons, which is below the 5-year
production average. Planting was delayed in the eastern part of the "Maize Triangle", comprised of the Free State, North West, Gauteng, and Mpumalanga provinces, and young plants were damaged due to the dry conditions in
The latest IRI seasonal precipitation forecast for the February-April 2003 season indicates enhanced probabilities of below normal rainfall throughout much of southern Africa, from Madagascar and southern Mozambique to most of South Africa, western Botswana, Namibia, and southern Angola.
Asia - India
The western state of Rajasthan continues to feel the effects of this year's failed monsoon season and extended
drought. According to IFRC, as much as 75 percent of the crops in the state have been lost this year. About 4.8 million
hectares of monsoon season crops, worth about 910 million dollars have been destroyed, and groundwater levels
have fallen, leading to shortages of drinking water. Families in some locations have begun skipping meals or relying
upon wild foods (IFRC). A 25 December report by the UN Disaster Management Team has also noted that
the current rabi (winter season) crop is also in danger due to unseasonably cool weather and low soil moisture.
This season, only 2,586,000 hectares were sown with rabi season crops compared to 6,097,000 hectares last year (UNDMT).
According to the latest IRI seasonal forecast, in southern India there is an enhanced probability of below normal rainfall during the Februrary-April 2003 season.
Central America - Costa Rica and Panama
Strong rainfall and winds struck Panama and Costa Rica for about two weeks in late November and early December. According to the National Meteorological Institute, an entire month's worth of rain fell on Costa Rica on one night alone. There was severe flooding in more than 110 communities in the two countries. Government reports indicate that six people died and 53 people were injured. Approximately 50,000 and 15,000 people have been affected in Costa Rica and Panama, respectively. (IFRC, American Red Cross)
For the upcoming February-April season, the IRI seasonal forecast indicates an enhanced likelihood of below normal rainfall in southern Central America.
Europe - Eastern Europe
Severe cold weather is responsible for several hundred deaths due to hypothermia this winter. Poland has reported 191 deaths due to the cold since October as temperatures dropped as low as -30 degrees Celsius. A large portion of the fatalities were people who froze to death after drinking alcohol. The current death toll is about one-third higher than that at the same date last year. While this winter has been abnormally harsh, experts hold the rise in alcoholism and homeless since the end of communism in 1989 partly to blame to the large number of deaths. Last year, 305 people froze to death in Poland between early October and late March. (AP) There have been 272 deaths from the cold in Moscow since the onset of the coldest winter in two decades. As in Poland, many of those who have died were drunk people who could not find shelter. Nearly 400 people froze to death last winter in Moscow. (AP, AP, New York Times)
The pattern that brought the extended cold wave to Eastern Europe and northern Asia also sent anomalously cold air to Nepal, Bangladesh, and northern India.
North America - United States Pacific Coast
A series of coastal storms put December precipitation totals in the upper 10 percent of the climatological distribution in northern California
and southwestern Oregon. Hundreds of thousands were left without power in southern California after seven 200-ft (61 m) tall pylons fell in 60 mph (96 km/h) winds.
Another 300,000 were left without power in Oregon and Washington after a storm brought 70 mph (112km/h) winds and gusts up to 128 mph (205 km/h). Thirteen deaths have been attributed to the flooding and high winds. Despite the wind and flood damage, the storms brought some much needed rain to the area as they helped
replenish snowpack used for the region's drinking water and hydroelectric dams. (CBS, Reuters, AP, CPC, Los Angeles Daily Times)
The lastest IRI seasonal forecast for February-April 2003 indicates an enhanced probability of above-normal precipitation along the United States Pacific Coast, primarily in southern California..
Asia - Bangladesh and India
Anomalously cold air from Eastern Europe and northern Asia made its way into northern India and Bangladesh in mid-December. Thousands of people suffering from cold related diseases (e.g., cold, fevers, pneumonia, asthma, and respiratory complications) in the 15 affected districts of Bangladesh have approached medical centres for treatments. Many in the affected area had lost their homes in flooding earlier this year, making them more suseptible to the
cold. (IFRC) The unusually cold weather is being blamed for the deaths of 187 people in Bangladesh. Temperatures have dropped to 6 degrees Celsius in some areas, and as low as 3 degrees Celsius in the northern region of this country that usually enjoys a tropical monsoon climate. (AFP, AFP, IFRC)
The cold wave also hit areas in northern India. Temperatures near freezing killed atleast 185 people, mostly homeless. The eastern state of Bihar was most severely affected with
131 deaths, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 52 victims. (Disaster Relief)
Asia - Afghanistan
Forty-one Afghan children in refugee camps have died from extreme cold weather. Another 1200 children, most under the age of 8, are threatened by the cold and inadequate living conditions at the camps in the southern Afghan town of Spin Boldak. Afghanistan has approximately 700,000 internally displaced people, many having been forced from their homes due to prolonged drought. (AFP, Reuters Health)
Asia - Malaysia
Over 10,750 Malaysians have been affected by dengue fever this year, including 54 deaths, an increase over last year's 8,669 cases and 50 deaths. The current hot and rainy weather, ideal for mosquito breeding, are believed to be contributing to the rise in cases. (AFP, ProMED)
Africa - Ethiopia
Unusual rainfall in December may have provided some benefits to those suffering from the ongoing drought in the
country, according to the UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia. In South Tigray, farmers were reportedly able to
use the rains to begin preparing for the spring (belg) rains. In provinces further to the south and east, including
Central, Southern, and Eastern Tigray, Arsi, and East and West Hararghe, the rainfall contributed to better pasture
and improved water quality. However, 11 million people remain threatened by severe food shortages due to the
drought, according to a joint report from FAO and WFP, based on a 4-week food supply assessment mission in
November and December. Cereal and pulse production (9.2 million tons) is expected to be 25 percent below the 2001
harvest, requiring the country to import 2.3 million tons of cereal. (IRIN, WFP)
Africa - Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
Throughout the winter wheat and barley growing areas of northwestern Africa, including parts of northern Morocco,
Algeria, and Tunisia, rains began as early as October, and continued steadily throughout November and December,
allowing for early planting and a good start to the growing season. Rainfall was well above-normal in November in
particular in the agricultural regions of the three countries. According to a USDA/FAS report, the rains were especially
welcome in Tunisia which had extremely low wheat and barley harvests in the 2002/03 season due to drought.
Africa - West Africa
Although cereal production in West Africa as a whole was down only slightly this year compared to last, and still 11% above the average for the
last five years, some individual countries, including Mauritania, Cape Verde, Senegal, and Chad, had extremely poor harvests due to drought.
According to a FEWS Net report, the availability of grain is expected to decline and the food situation to deteriorate in the drought-stricken
western Sahel, particularly in Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, and western Mali, during the course of the coming
year. An October survey in The Gambia undertaken by WFP and FAO found an acute malnutrition rate of 11.2% among children aged 6 to 59 months. Among children
aged 12 to 23 months, the acute malnutrition rate was 18% and chronic malnutrition was 16.2%. According to the report, crops including millet,
maize, rice, and groundnut did poorly throughout the country due to dry conditions in the middle of the summer rainy season, from mid-July to August. Although cereal production was only 1% below the latest five-year average, it was 25% below last year's total. Additionally, retail
millet prices increased 245% from May to mid-October. (IRIN, FEWS, IRIN)
Asia - Pakistan
Two-hundred villages in southeastern Pakistan are feeling the effects of 3 years of scarce rain. Millions of acres have remained uncultivated due
to the lack of rain, and hundreds of livestock have either died or been infected with fatal diseases. Half of the wells in the area are now dry and
another 20 percent have turned brackish. Approximately half of the population have abandoned their homes in search of food and water, many
migrating to the Indus River belt. WFO announced in October that it would send food to the region. (The Dawn, The Dawn)
Asia - Tajikistan
Though conditions are improving, December brought one of the harshest winters in living memory to Tajikistan. The country is facing a possible
famine, according to the Deputy Agriculture Minister, and will require 1 million tons of grain to stave off the threat of starvation. There was no
electricity, gas, or water in many places in Dushanbe for the first few weeks of December. The situation is reportedly improving in the capital,
but there is still quite a bit of concern for those in isolated areas. Uzbekistan has promised to increase deliveries of natural gas and electricity.
through April 1, 2003. (Radio Free Europe, IRIN)
Asia - Cambodia
Cambodia's National Committee for Disaster Management (NCDM) says that more than 2 million people have been affected by a drought in 8 districts in the southern and
northwestern sections of the country which began as early as January 2002 in some places and continued until August 2002. NCDM officials say it is the worst drought in
two decades, according to an OCHA report. According to government estimates, the lack of rain destroyed approximately 21 million dollars worth of rice crops while floods damaged at least 9 million dollars worth. The national government states that Cambodia will likely face a shortage of 88,000 metric tons of rice in 2003. WFP has
estimated that about 700,000 people will need food aid because of both the drought and flooding episodes. (DPA)
The latest IRI seasonal precipitation forecast for February-April 2003 suggests an increased likelihood of below normal rainfall in Cambodia.
Australia - Australia
According to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology's 2002 climate review, this year was one of the warmest and driest on record. For the country as a whole, the average maximum temperature in 2002 was the highest on record; and 2002 was the fourth driest year since 1900 and the fifth warmest year, in terms of mean annual temperature, since 1910. Mean rainfall from March to December 2002 was the lowest on record for that period. The bureau attributed the hot and dry conditions largely to the El Niņo conditions in the Pacific Ocean.
About two-thirds of large farms in Australia have been feeling the effects of the current drought, with those in eastern and southwestern Australia being hit the hardest. New South Wales is reporting that 99 percent of the state is now drought-affected and is impacting its water storage. One of its reservoirs is at 10 percent capacity and another six storage systems are below 30 percent. As of mid-December, Victoria had already had three times as many fires as normal for that time of the year. Concerns about the conservation of waterfowl populations forced the Department of Environment and Heritage to close the South Australia duck and quail hunting seasons.
Beekeepers have had significant difficulty finding areas with flowering plants for their hives due to the drought, and the situation has been made worse by brushfires in New South Wales and Victoria. These factors, in addition to the arrival of the African small hive beetle, dropped Australia's summer honey production to one third of its normal output. The Australian Honey Bee Industry Council estimates that national production has dropped to no more than 12,000 tons, compared with the normal annual production of 30,000 tons. The lack of supply and associated spike in price has forced packers to import honey from Argentina,some for the first time in their history. (The Canberra Times, CNN, The Age, CIP, The Advertiser, CNN, BOM, CNN, The Australian)
The latest IRI seasonal forecast for February-April 2003 indicates slightly enhanced probabilities of continued below normal rainfall conditions in Queensland and the Northern Territory.
North America - Canada
Western Canada's 2002 growing season was the worst in 25 years. Some areas, primarily in Alberta and Saskatchewan,
experienced its worst growing season ever. The region's precipitation totals were 60 percent of normal which allowed its farmers to harvest only 78 percent of the land they seeded. Output of western
Canada's six major crops was down 44 percent from 1999, 41 percent from 2000, and 25 percent from 2001. Production of
the major specialty crops, including lentils, field peas, mustard seed, canary seed and sunflower seeds, was down 39 percent
from 1999, 49 percent from 2000 and 25 percent from 2001. While the drought was the primary cause of the poor crop production, the situation was made worse by
grasshoppers and the early arrival of fall weather. (Environment Canada, Bell Globemedia Interactive, Inc.)
Europe - Scandinavia
The dry period occurring throughout Scandinavia extended through December and early January as Norwegian and Swedish reservoir levels continued to
fall. Norwegian reservoir levels fell 3.3 percentage points during the first week of January to an average of 46.4 percent. Reservoir
levels in Sweden fell 2.5 percent to an average of 40.6 percent. The reservoir levels at the same time last year were 68.5 and 67.3
percent in Norway and Sweden, respectively. (Reuters)