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Seeds of Famine: Earth Image of the Week July 29, 2011
Africa drought graphic
Spring crops are normally planted in East Africa during March or April, when the first rains of the year fall. The rains were late and spotty this year. Inadequate precipitation occured in late April and May,
Some of the worst drought conditions the Horn of Africa has experienced in recorded history continued to worsen during July, with catastrophic effects on the region’s population.

The United Nations estimates that more than 11.5 million people are in need of immediate food assistance in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Disturbing reports of starving mothers abandoning their dying children along paths leading to refugee camps highlight the urgent need for immediate international assistance.

The image to the right was created with data from the Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer, orbiting aboard the NOAA-18 POES satellite.

It records the amount of light plants absorb during photosynthesis. This allows scientists to indirectly measure how crops and other plants are responding to weather conditions and other factors.

The shades of dark brown and reddish-brown across Kenya, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia clearly show why subsistence farmers in those countries are in dire need of help to replace their lost crops. The poor harvest and lack of productive grazing land during July has compounded an already acute food shortage.

The previous crop, harvested early in the year, was also poor. In Somalia, the harvest was less than 20 percent of average, and people began to run short on food in April. Despite earlier warnings of impending famine, international aid agencies have been hampered by inadequate funding, logistical difficulties and civil unrest in the region.

The La Niña ocean-cooling in the Pacific has been blamed for creating East Africa’s worst drought in 60 years. Now that La NIña has ended, meteorologists predict that more normal rains are likely to return to the region later this year. But it will take far longer for the region to recover, and for its population to need less international assistance to feed itself.

Full story and image: NASA