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IRI Climate Digest   May 2005

Climate Impacts - April

Contributions to this page were made by IRI researchers
M. Bell, Dr. A. Giannini, E. Grover-Kopec,
Dr. B. Lyon, C. Ropelewski, Dr. A. Seth

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Africa - Ethiopia,Somalia  Above-normal rainfall in the Ethiopian highlands brought flooding to eastern Ethiopia and northwestern and southern Somalia in late April and early May (April 2005 Precipitation Percentile Map). Seasonal flooding is a regular occurrence in the region during the Belg (February-May) rains and is responsible for regenerating soil moisture for pasture, but the damage caused by the flooding this year is more severe than usual (Climatological Precipitation Animation). In the Somali region of Ethiopia, the Wabe Shebelle River burst its banks on 23 April after heavy rains fell in the highlands to the north. Approximately 155 people have been killed since the flooding began, according to government officials. The large death toll is partly due to the timing of the floods, which struck while most people were sleeping. Another 150,000 people were reportedly affected by the flooding and tens of thousands of livestock were lost when at least 84 villages were destroyed. An official overseeing the government response in the area indicated that this has been the worst flooding in 40 years. The last major flooding in the Somali region was in 2003 when 119 people died. (OCHA, IRIN, IRIN, IRIN, AP/CNN, Reuters, AFP/Herald Sun)

In southern Somalia, food shortages are the primary threat after underground storage facilities were damaged by flooding along the Middle Shabelle River. Approximately 6000 people will require food aid and support through the upcoming dry season. The flooding in southern Somalia was a result of heavy rain in Ethiopia, but its own Gu (March-May) rains have performed erratically (see map above). Heavy rains and resulting flooding also affected Hargeysa, the capital of of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in northwestern Somalia. The flooding killed at least five people, damaged infrastructure and killed thousands of livestock in the capital city and the nearby towns of Burao and Berbera. About 4500 people in Hargeysa have been assisted by UNICEF. (OCHA, UNICEF, IRIN, IRIN)

The latest IRI seasonal forecast indicates a slightly-enhanced probability of above-normal precipitation across most of Ethiopia for the upcoming June-August period.

Asia,Europe - Georgia,Romania,Serbia  Several days of heavy precipitation ( April 2005 Precipitation Anomaly) and spring snow melt from the Carpathian Mountains flooded rivers in western Romania and northeastern Serbia in the last half of April (ReliefWeb, DFO). News reports indicated that one or more dams along the Timis River burst and contributed to the flooding as well (AP, Reuters). Local authorities in Romania called the flooding along the Timis River the worst in a century. At least 3700 people in western Romania were forced from their homes, several thousand houses were flooded, and an early estimate from the farm ministry indicated that about 110,000 hectares of crops had been damaged. On the eastern side of the Black Sea, heavy rains (April 2005 Precipitation Anomaly) and melting snow in April caused flooding and mudslides in western portions of Georgia, forcing at least 800 people from their homes.

North America - United States  Flooding in the first week of April in the U.S. states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York forced residents to evacuate their homes and caused tens of millions of dollars in property damage (DFO). According to the New Jersey state climatologist, up to six to eight inches (150-200 mm) of rain fell in northern New Jersey between 23 March and 02 April (New York Times; Accumulated Precipitation Map). Several rivers in northern New Jersey flooded as a result of the rains, and snow melt in the Delaware River basin was blamed for contributing to the flooding along its course. Property in New Jersey, including about 4000 homes, suffered about US$50 million in damage ( Flooding in the state capital of Trenton, which sits on the Delaware River, forced about 16,000 state employees to stay home for two days. At least US$40 million in property damage was reported in Monroe county Pennsylvania, and over 5700 homes in the state were evacuated (CNN).

Water Resources

Australia and New Zealand - Australia  Much of Australia has settled back into drought after the first four months of 2005 were the hottest and second driest on record (Feb-Apr 2005 BOM Precipitation Deciles, Jan-Apr 2005 Temperature Anomaly Animation). Climatologically, annual rainfall totals in most of Australia are dominated by precipitation during December-April. Nearly half of Australia's farm land has been affected by the drought, according to the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Estimates for the upcoming grain harvest have continued to be reduced as the prospects for wetter weather have declined. In the southeastern state of Victoria, farmers in most of the northern and eastern areas are eligible for federal government exceptional circumstances drought assistance, which provides interest rate subsidies and income support. Farmers in other states, including New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia have also qualified for drought assistance. Many of these farmers are still recovering from the severe drought in 2002-03 which cut the country's economic growth by one-third and cost an estimated USD 3.9 billion (Oct 2003 CID Report). (The Australian, Herald Sun, AFP)

The drought is impacting water resources as well. The reservoirs that serve Sydney are at 40 percent capacity. Goulburn, a nearby town of 22,000 inhabitants, may run out of water by the end of the year if it does not receive significant rainfall. Experts have indicated that the situation in Goulburn, which has already imposed water restrictions on its citizens and industry, may foreshadow possible water shortages for Sydney's 4 million inhabitants. (AP/CNN)

The latest IRI seasonal forecast suggests a slightly-enhanced likelihood of below-normal precipitation in portions of eastern and western Australia during the upcoming June-August period.


Africa - Africa: Southern  Dry conditions in the midst of the rainy season in Southern Africa, particularly in February (Feb 2005 Precipitation Anomaly), has led to estimates of below-normal crop production in much of the region this year (FEWS Net). The staple crop of maize was damaged in southern Madagascar (IRIN), southern Mozambique (FEWS Net), Malawi (IRIN), southern Zambia (FEWS Net), and Zimbabwe (FEWS Net; Reference Map) because of below-normal precipitation during the tasseling stage of crop development. Maize production in these countries is estimated to be down 10 to 30 percent from last year and below the most recent five-year average. However, adequate rainfall in the maize triangle of South Africa will likely result in a very good maize harvest there (estimated at 11.79 metric tons in late April, up 21 percent from last year), which is expected to be sufficient to meet the import needs of the other countries in the region, according to FEWS Net.

Africa - Djibouti,Eritrea,Somalia  In spite of rains in March and April (Estimated Precipitation Animation), the drought which has affected Eritrea, Djibouti, and northern Somalia for several years continues to have implications for food security for the populations living in these areas. In Djibouti, livestock losses remain high. About 40,000 pastoralists will need food aid until October, and 10,000 children require "urgent supplementary feeding". FAO has asked for US$4 million to provide veterinary care, food, and water to livestock in Djibouti, and WFP has appealed for US$2.5 million to assist drought-affected communities (IRIN). WFP has decided to extend its emergency aid activities in Eritrea by five months in order to provide food assistance to 840,000 people affected by drought; malnutrition remains a serious problem throughout the country (IRIN). Although northern Somalia received rainfall in the last half of 2004 (Sep 2004 CID, Mar 2005 CID), people continue to suffer from the effects of the multi-year drought, including massive livestock losses (IRIN). Showers in March temporarily improved pasture conditions in sections of northern Somalia and above-normal amounts of rain fell during April (May 2005 CID), but the region continues to experience long-term food insecurity (FEWS Net).

The latest IRI seasonal precipitation forecast for June-August 2005 indicates a slightly-enhanced probability of above-normal precipitation in Djibouti, southern Eritrea, and sections of northern Somalia.

Africa - Africa: North,Africa: Sahelian  The Sahel can expect a smaller locust invasion during the upcoming rainy season, compared to that of last year, according to the FAO. Below-normal temperatures, snow in the Sahara, and intensive spraying in Algeria, Libya, and Morocco, where most of the insects spend the winter months, have been given much of the credit of keeping locust breeding in check (Reference Map). Locust experts in the Sahel have concluded that the most likely scenario for the upcoming rainy season is an invasion of about one-tenth the size of that during 2004, which would require the treatment of 50,000-250,000 hectares. This can be compared to the 2.5 million hectares that were sprayed during last year's infestation, which was the largest seen in the region in 15 years. Approximately 90 percent of the money that will be needed to finance these expected control measures is already in place, according to the FAO. Thus far swarms have been seen in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and southeastern Niger where they have started damaging crops and causing power cuts by weighing down electrical wires. The most recent locust situation updates are available from the FAO. (IRIN, IRIN, Reuters/CNN, Reuters)

The latest IRI seasonal precipitation forecast indicates a slightly-enhanced probability of above-normal precipitation across the central and eastern Sahel and a moderately-enhanced probability of above-normal precipitation in the western Sahel for the June-August portion of the upcoming rainy season.

Europe - France,Portugal,Spain  The dry conditions (Nov 2004-Apr 2005 WASP Index) that have been developing in Spain, Portugal, and France since October 2004 have begun to affect water usage and farming practices in these countries, according to media reports. In Spain, November 2004-March 2005 precipitation totals have been the lowest values on record (since 1947) for that period of the year, and reservoirs are only 62 percent full. The Spanish government has allocated about 300 million euros to counter the effects of the drought, including reopening unused canals and wells (Reuters). Farmers in Spain and France have been called upon to switch to crops that use less water. For France as a whole, precipitation since October 2004 has been 30% below normal, and in six departments of the country, irrigation, lawn watering, and other activities that make intensive use of water have been banned (AFP). As of mid-April about 80% of Portugal was experiencing "extreme" or "severe" drought according to the national water institute, and the dry conditions have cost farmers about $US 1.3 billion in damages and lost income, according to a national farmers' association (AFP).

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