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Drought and its interactions in East Africa

Research being undertaken by ASSAR's East Africa team is underlining the interconnected nature of environmental and social dynamics in semi-arid regions. Read more about it in this detailed report.
Image of drought cover


Research being undertaken by ASSAR‘s East Africa team is underlining the interconnected nature of environmental and social dynamics in semi-arid regions.

The team have been analysing multiple dimensions of vulnerability and adaptation at case study sites in the drylands of Ethiopia and Kenya. During this work drought events have intensified in both areas, deepening chronic issues related to water stress and resource access. However, it is crucial to recognise that drought is not a standalone problem. Its impacts and implications are intrinsically connected with a range of other changes taking place in the region. Understanding drought impacts and acting to reduce drought risk must take account of these intersecting dynamics.

This article* uses examples from case studies to illustrate the interaction of drought with a set of other dynamics in the lives of pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. In so doing, it raises questions around how the implications of drought should be understood and how such analyses should inform risk management.

*Download the article from the right-hand column. The conclusions are summarised below (please notes that these are abridged – see the full text for more detail).

Conclusions (in brief)

  • If we think of meteorological drought as itself part of a climate dynamic (both in terms of background variability and longer-term climate change trends), then we need to view it as one element of change among a range of other critical changes that are taking place in the dryland regions.
  • Crises are to large extent contingent on how stresses are managed. This needs to take into account the wider interaction of drought with other environmental and societal dynamics that significantly shape the nature and extent of its impacts.
  • These interactions make it difficult to analyse and respond to the implications of drought separately from other changes and challenges (drought is seldom a standalone problem). There is typically a continuum between this long-duration, slow-onset hazard and seasonal water stress conditions. For many purposes, this brings into question the value of trying to distinguish the effects and interactions of a specific drought ‘event’ from the normality of water stress and climatic trends.
  • There are limitations, therefore, in the extent to which we can talk about drought events in isolation – from chronic water security issues and from the wider, but associated dynamics taking place in drylands.
  • This interaction of dynamics presents challenges for chronic and extreme water stress management, in that it makes it more difficult to pinpoint specific instruments for risk reduction. But it should also be seen as an opportunity, in that action to reduce negative pressures in one sector is capable of bringing multiple benefits, including decreasing the underlying vulnerability of people to all forms of water stress.

During this period of drought crises a number of high-level strategic meetings and initiatives have been held or planned in the region and across Africa, including the Windhoek Declaration for Enhancing Resilience to Drought in Africa in August 2016, and the IGAD Experts and Ministerial Meeting on 2017 Drought Response and Recovery held in Nairobi at the end of March 2017. Most have an aim of strengthening drought resilience through promoting approaches that go beyond emergency response to a deeper engagement with the principles of disaster risk reduction.

Though such forums typically make reference to the dynamic social and environmental contexts of drought risk and the need to reduce underlying societal factors that elevate risk, to date they seldom focus the discussion on this more challenging, yet fundamental agenda for tackling the problem.

From page 8 of the article. Photo by Lucia Scodanibbio ©

This document looks at research done by Roger Few, with input from Jennifer Leavy, Mark Tebboth and Poshendra Satyal, on drought and its impacts on East Africa.

This work was carried out under the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA), with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DfID) and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

Suggested Citation

Few, R. (2017) Drought Does Not Work Alone. ASSAR

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