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Drought in Eastern Africa causes concern

Reports are growing of renewed drought in Eastern Africa particularly affecting areas of southern Ethiopia, southern Somalia and eastern Kenya. Once again the livelihoods of the pastoral communities will be affected and their livestock, on which they are heavily dependent, could be at risk from a resurgence of epidemic diseases. Particular concern at this time relates to rinderpest given that the rinderpest status of the southern Somali ecosystem is largely undefined.

In the past, droughts in eastern Africa seem to have been the precipitating factor in causing rinderpest to flare-up in stressed populations of cattle and wildlife. Presumably this is because drought causes extensive migration of pastoral herds in search of the little water and grazing available and the congregatation of livestock which results provides ideal conditions for virus transmission. Thus, the scene could be set for a recapitulation of the events which started in 1992/93 leading to invasion of Tsavo National Park by rinderpest by 1994 and eventually Nairobi National Park, Kajiado and northern Tanzania in 1996.

After this episode coordinated interventions by the governments of Kenya and Tanzania succeeded in reversing the spread of rinderpest to the point where declarations of provisional freedom from rinderpest were possible for the whole of Tanzania and a large zone of Kenya. If a recapitualtion of the earlier events is occurring now, or does so in the near future, it will be a severe test of Kenya's defences which include maintenance of a vaccinated buffer zone in the east of the country. The need for vigilance in this highly vulnerable area is of paramount importance and merits support.

The maps below illustrate progressive drying of the pastures in eastern Africa, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. NDVI values obtained by remote sensing, expressed as the difference between monthly/dekadal values and the monthly/dekadal mean of the last 15 years, are shown as coloured pixels on the map. Areas shown as red/brown or dark grey are drier than normal.

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Monthly changes in mean absolute NDVI values are illustrated in the graph below.

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[Last Updated on 31/03/00 by FAO]


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