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Moderate to extreme drought conditions persist over several regions of East Africa

  • Seasonal Monitor
  • East Africa
  • November 30, 2021
Moderate to extreme drought conditions persist over several regions of East Africa

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • Prolonged moderate to severe drought conditions (SPI < -0.7) have persisted over much of the eastern Horn. The on-going deyr/short rains are the third consecutive poor rainfall season in the drought affected areas of Somalia, southeastern Ethiopia and northern and eastern Kenya.

    • The northern sector of East Africa remains abnormally wetter than average during the area’s typical dry and hot season. Similarly, above-average rainfall has continued in bimodal areas of northeastern Uganda and unimodal western areas of Kenya, where it has increased the likelihood of localized flooding, and in parts of South Sudan, where it has sustained high flood extent.

    • Crops and livestock production prospects remain poor, with no effective start of rainfall for planting and crop growth over much of the eastern Horn, along with extremely poor rangeland resources (pasture, browse, and water) in drought-hit pastoral areas. Similar poor conditions are also present in the bi-modal northeastern regions of Tanzania.  

    • As the rains progress southwards to Tanzania in December, the October to December seasonal rains are expected to come to a timely end in mid- to late-December. Rainfall is expected to be cumulatively well-below average despite moderate to locally heavy rainfall forecast in parts of the eastern Horn in December.


    From September 1 to November 25, rainfall over the deyr/hageya/short rains dependent areas of southern and southeastern Ethiopia, central and southern Somalia, and northern and eastern Kenya has been cumulatively less than 30 to 60 percent of the 1981-2020 average (Figure 1). In many areas, the start of season was over 30-40 days late or has failed to start at all. Across much of the eastern Horn, widespread moderate to extreme meteorological drought conditions are present based on the Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI -1.2 to -2.0) (Figure 2). The poor rains, along with hotter-than-normal land surface conditions, have significantly affected pastoral areas as rangeland resources and livestock body conditions deteriorate. Crop production prospects are also very poor, with a failed season anticipated in Ethiopia and a significantly below-average to failed season anticipated in marginal agricultural areas of Kenya and Somalia.

    Meanwhile, rainfall cumulatively ranges from 75 to 90 percent of the 1981-2020 average across much of central and northern Uganda, western and eastern Rwanda, western and southern Burundi, and eastern DRC. Across much of the northern sector, unseasonal wetter-than-normal conditions are present, particularly in the western Darfur region of Sudan, South Sudan, and parts of northern Somalia.

    According to the satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), vegetation greenness is well below the 2003-2017 median across much of the eastern Horn, dropping to less than 60 percent of normal in northern and eastern Kenya, parts of southern and central Somalia, and parts of the Somali, Oromia, and SNNP regions of Ethiopia (Figure 3). Some locations along the tri-border area of southern Somalia, southeastern Ethiopia, and northeastern Kenya (extended Mandera triangle) have recorded significantly below-average vegetation greenness similar to past droughts. Additionally, the on-going hotter-than-normal conditions have continued to help drive the rapid deterioration of pasture/browse and surface water pans, adversely impacting livestock health and productivity. As livestock body conditions deteriorate, there are increasing reports of livestock deaths in Somalia, southern and southeastern Ethiopia, and northern and eastern Kenya. Across the rest of East Africa, near-average vegetation conditions are present, with above-average vegetation greenness in northern Somalia, northeastern South Sudan, and eastern Sudan following wetter-than-normal conditions persisting into the current typical dry season.

    Across most marginal agricultural cropping areas in southern Somalia and southeastern Kenya, the onset of the seasonal rains was significantly delayed by over 30-40 days or has failed to start at all. Overall, the very poor start of season and imminent end of the season in December has inhibited maize and sorghum production. Field reports and crop simulation models confirm the negative impacts of the drought, and there is an increased likelihood of a significantly below average to failed cropping season across these regions. However, in parts of western and central Kenya, crops are in the early vegetative stages and rainfall in November supported favorable crop conditions. In western and central Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, crops are in the reproductive stages with near-average yield prospects.

    According to the FAO, there are concerns over the presence of desert locusts in southern Ethiopia and Somalia, with migration to north-central Kenya anticipated in December based on the prevailing meteorological wind-patterns. However, breeding in eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia is likely to be extremely limited due to poor rainfall, which is not expected to improve.

    The following is a country-by-country update on recent seasonal progress to date:

    • In Somalia, the on-going deyr seasonal rains are generally characterized by significantly delayed onset (over two months) and well below average rainfall. The worst-affected areas are south-central Somalia, with some areas receiving less than 30 percent of average rainfall. Rainfall in late November is likely too late to trigger any favorable crop planting activities but is likely to provide short-term relief to rangeland resources. In parts of central Somalia, vegetation conditions are gradually improving following rainfall in November, but exceptionally drier-than-normal conditions remain present across much of Somalia. The harvest is expected to be significantly below average or failed in rain-fed agricultural areas, resulting in a third consecutive poor agricultural season in southern Somalia. There is also a desert locust invasion threat over parts of southern Somalia, due to conductive wind-regimes and improved vegetation following late seasonal rainfall.
    • In Ethiopia, overall, most of southern and southeastern Ethiopia that depend on deyr/hageya seasonal rains received 30 to 75 percent of average rainfall from October 1 to November 25, with little or no rainfall expected as the season comes to an end. In agropastoral and cropping areas, rain-fed agricultural activities have failed. Across the rest of the country, persistent rains during the harvesting period of meher dependant areas could result into some post-harvest crop losses. Conflict and poor kiremt rainfall is driving lower than normal meher production across the country, notably in northern Ethiopia as well as SNNPR, central Oromia and the highlands of East and West Hararghe. Mature swarms of desert locusts are present in southern Ethiopia. Desert locusts are also likely present in conflict-affected areas but their scale and growth stage is undetermined due to a lack of accessibility.
    • In Kenya, as the typical November peak of the short-rains passes, cumulative rainfall over much of northern and eastern Kenya is less than 30 to 60 percent of average.  In western Kenya, the long rains harvest is complete or nearing completion in the main producing Rift Valley, West, and Central provinces, and conditions are generally favorable.  In the marginal agricultural areas planting of short rains crops is underway, but due to the significantly delayed rainfall onset and below-average rainfall, crops are unlikely to recover. In late December there is a risk of desert locust invading northern and northeastern counties depending on control operations in Somalia and the continuation of monitoring efforts and control in eastern Ethiopia.
    • In Sudan, the sorghum and millet harvest is underway, and conditions are generally favorable. In southeastern Sudan, greener-than-normal vegetation conditions are present following sustained above average seasonal rains and high Nile River levels. However, vegetation greenness in southern and western Sudan is declining following the end of the rainy season driven by warmer-than-normal conditions since November. There is a moderate risk of locusts impacting the harvest in North Kurdufan, Kassala, and Al Jazirah states.
    • In South Sudan, there was cumulatively average to above average rainfall between September to November. However, the greater Kapoeta area in southeastern South Sudan saw delayed rainfall, which has resulted in localized areas of below average rainfall and wilting/stressed crop conditions. Overall, rangeland resources are slightly greener-than-average, with localized areas of drier-than-normal conditions, due to the varying impacts of flooding and prolonged waterlogging. The risk of new flooding has subsided with the end of the seasonal rains in November, though existing flood extent remains high and above normal levels at this point in the year.
    • In Uganda, harvesting of first season maize crops finalized in Karamoja with well below-average yields due to a late start of the season followed by flooding in early development stages as well as extreme dry spells during the growing period. Harvesting of second season maize crops has begun in the northwest while crops continue to develop in other areas, and overall conditions are favorable. However, erratic early season rains and forecast below-average precipitation in several areas through early December may impact final yields, particularly if there is below-average rainfall before crop maturation. Pasture and water availability is also slightly below average in localized areas in the southwest cattle corridor and parts of the central zone. Southern areas of Uganda are expected to continue experiencing moderate to locally heavy rainfall, with increased flood risks in western regions bordering DRC.
    • In Rwanda and Burundi, season-A rainfall performance was largely mixed, with below average rainfall over the eastern regions of Rwanda and much of Burundi. However, cropping conditions are generally near average. The seasonal rains were adequate for most crop growing areas, apart from the worst-affected areas where most crops are in the vegetative stage due to delayed rainfall onset and planting. Across the remainder of Rwanda and Burundi, crops are in the reproductive stage and in good condition, particularly along the western border districts of Rwanda and Burundi.
    • In Yemen, vegetation conditions have remained good, with greener-than-normal conditions over the western-central regions. Little to no rainfall is expected in the coming months, and near-normal conditions are likely across the country.  Small-scale breeding of desert locusts continues on the southern coast where hoppers and a few small groups of adults are present. 


    According to the two-week rainfall outlook for December 2-16, 2021, there is an increased likelihood for moderate to heavy rains over Burundi, Rwanda, southeastern Kenya, southern Uganda, and the southern coastline of Somalia (Figure 4). However, the end of season rains in deyr and short rain dependent areas is unlikely to provide any significant and long-lasting impacts on crops and rangeland resources. Based on observed and forecast rainfall through December 10, there are likely to be rainfall deficits over much of Uganda, eastern Rwanda, Kenya, southern Ethiopia, and central and southern Somalia (Figure 5). The marginal and pastoral areas of the eastern Horn remain of particular concern where deficits of less than 30 percent to 60 percent of average are anticipated. The seasonal rains are expected to subside in mid-December, as the tropical rainfall system shows early signs of faster-than-normal southward progression into Tanzania and southern African countries. Abnormally high land-surface temperatures are also likely to continue, eroding the possible short-term gains from rainfall in late November, particularly in the drought affected areas of Somalia and Kenya. The current deyr/short rains are likely to be one of the worst observed seasons in recent history. The recently published multi-agency joint statement highlights the anticipated impact of the three-season drought. 


    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center

    Figure 3

    Figure 3.

    Source: FEWS NET

    Figure 4

    Figure 4.

    Source: NOAA/CPC

    Figure 5

    Figure 5.

    Source: UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center

    FEWS NET’s Seasonal Monitor reports are produced for Central America and the Caribbean, West Africa, East Africa, Central Asia, and Somalia every 10-to-30 days during the region’s respective rainy season(s). Seasonal Monitors report updates on weather events (e.g., rainfall patterns) and associated impacts on ground conditions (e.g., cropping conditions, pasture and water availability), as well as the short-term rainfall forecast. Find more remote sensing information here.

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