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The eastern Horn faces intensifying drought, as seasonal rains start over the western sector

  • Seasonal Monitor
  • East Africa
  • October 29, 2021
The eastern Horn faces intensifying drought, as seasonal rains start over the western sector

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  • Key Messages
  • Key Messages
    • The 2021 deyr/short-rains season, which occurs from September to December, is significantly delayed, poorly distributed, and cumulatively far below average (<50 percent) in the eastern Horn of Africa. Temperatures were also hotter-than-normal. As a result, pasture and water shortages are rapidly worsening across most pastoral and agro-pastoral regions, with little or no crop planting, as rainfall has been inadequate to support seed germination and crop development. This is the third sequential poor rainy season in this region, and prospects for agricultural production and livestock body conditions are below average in marginal agricultural and pastoral areas.

    • Parts of the western and northern sector of the region continued to observe wetter-than-normal conditions, signaling the onset of the September to December seasonal rains and start of agricultural activities over the western sector of the region. Wet conditions have led to sustained flooding in South Sudan and Sudan and a risk of flooding in other areas such as Afar, Ethiopia. However, cumulative seasonal rainfall is forecast to be average to below average in Uganda, Burundi, and Rwanda, with localized areas of below-average rainfall.

    • As the June to September seasonal rains cease, harvesting of main season cereals is underway in the north with mixed production prospects due to the impact of conflict, socio-economic drivers, poor rainfall, and flooding in parts of Ethiopia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Yemen. 


    The eastern sector of the region has remained atypically dry, with rainfall deficits ranging less than 30 to 60 percent of average in eastern Ethiopia, central and southern Somalia, and eastern Kenya, marking a third consecutive below-average rainy season. Across the eastern sector, water shortages are also being reported, with many water points dry and yet to recharge. The poor start of the deyr/short rains is resulting in rapidly weakening livestock body conditions and likely significantly below-average crop production in pastoral and marginal agricultural areas of the eastern sector.

    Meanwhile, rainfall was largely average to above-average from September to October in parts of south-west Yemen, northern Somalia, much of South Sudan, northern, central, and western Ethiopia, northwestern Uganda, and western Kenya (Figure 1). Additionally, there are elevated flood risks in the Afar region of Ethiopia, and, the eastern border regions of Sudan and South Sudan driven by the oscillating movement of the tropical rainfall belt (ITCZ) over the northern sector of the region during this period. The southward progression of the ITCZ has resulted in the timely onset of the September to December seasonal rains over Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and western Kenya. These rains have largely been above-average, improving cumulative rainfall totals to central-south Ethiopia, northeastern Uganda, and northwestern Kenya, which had been experiencing drier than normal conditions. However, western Uganda, eastern Rwanda, and northeastern Burundi have experienced rainfall deficits.

    According to the satellite-derived normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), vegetation greenness is well below the  2003-2017 median across much of eastern Horn, dropping to less than 60 percent of normal in parts of the Somali region of Ethiopia, southern and central Somalia, and northern and eastern Kenya (Figure 2). According to national, regional, and global forecasts, rangeland resources in these areas are expected to deteriorate further, driven by delayed and below-average rainfall and hotter-than-normal temperatures. In addition to water shortages, pasture deficits have led to deteriorating livestock body conditions, atypical livestock migration in search of water and pasture, and reports of atypical livestock deaths in parts of Somalia and the Oromia region of Ethiopia.

    In other areas of East Africa, vegetation greenness is near to above the median across most of East Africa, particularly Yemen, Djibouti, northern Somalia, southern Sudan, South Sudan, Uganda, western Kenya, Rwanda, and Burundi (Figure 2). However, NDVI anomalies of less than 60 percent to 80 percent of the median are present across Darfur, Kordofan, and eastern Sudan, where intermittent soil-saturation/water-logging and flooding occurred during the June to September rainy season. Similar anomalies were previously present in central and northern South Sudan at the peak of seasonal floods in September and early October but have since begun to improve. While adequate vegetation has benefitted livestock in most areas, there are reports of increased livestock disease incidence and loss of pasture in the worst flood-affected areas.

    In the northern sector, the June to September main season cereal harvest is underway in Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Yemen, while the harvest is expected to start in Sudan in November. In Ethiopia, conditions are mixed for Meher season crops due to ongoing conflict in the north. Additionally, below-average yields are expected in South Sudan and Yemen due to the impact of flooding, conflict, and socio-economic challenges, and there is some concern for the harvest in eastern Sudan due to flooding. In the western and southern sectors, the harvest of main season cereals is concluding in northern Uganda and western Kenya. Additionally, planting and early crop growth of second season cereals are underway across Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Burundi, though crop conditions are mixed in Uganda due to variations in rainfall performance. In the eastern sector, very dry conditions due to delayed rainfall are impeding seed germination and wet planting in Somalia and southeastern Kenya. Given the short length of the growing period, the deyr/short-rains crop production prospects are significantly below-average.

    According to FAO, a current upsurge of desert locusts continues in the Horn of Africa and Yemen but at a much smaller scale than last year. A few swarms have moved to northwest Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, with at least one swarm reaching Kenya. More hopper bands are expected to form in northern Somalia and extend to eastern Ethiopia and central Somalia.

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

    • In Somalia, there are increasing concerns and evidence that the delayed and poor performance of the deyr seasonal rains will result in a significantly below-average crop harvest in January in southern and central Somalia, given that October is typically the peak month of rainfall. Meanwhile, water and pasture shortages are driving rapidly weakening livestock body conditions and declining livestock reproduction prospects. There are already reports of livestock deaths from starvation and disease in Jubaland and other areas, especially among cattle and sheep. Although rangeland conditions are currently more favorable in the north, Desert Locusts in Northern Inland Pastoral and Guban Pastoral livelihood zones remain a concern, as there is an increased likelihood for further breeding due to recent rain.
    • In Ethiopia, the above-average to average June to September seasonal rains have continued through October over the northern, western, and parts of central Ethiopia. Persistent heavy rains into late October and escalating conflict may constrain harvesting and result in post-harvest losses of early planted crops in key agricultural areas of western and northern highlands of Ethiopia in the coming weeks. However, the gradual shift of ITCZ into southern Ethiopia with the establishment of the deyr rains in late October into November would mark the end of June - September seasonal rains and the typical onset of the dry season over much of northern and western Ethiopia. According to FAO, there are unconfirmed presence and breeding of desert locusts in Afar and surrounding areas, with vegetation observations indicating favorable rangeland resources in response to the ongoing rains, despite the reported large-scale conflict in these regions. There are also reports of locusts in areas of the Somali region as of early November, following localized moderate rains that resulted in short-lived improvements in vegetation conditions.
    • In Kenya, the short-rains season started in September over the western bimodal rainfall zones, with largely average rainfall. The planted maize crop is in the emergence to vegetative stages and in favorable condition. However, in the north-rift counties, moderate to heavy rains in September hampered the harvest and drying of the long-cycle maize crop and resulted in some pre- and post-harvest losses. Meanwhile, much of Kenya's northern, eastern, and coastal pastoral areas have remained abnormally dry and hot. The onset of the October to December seasonal rains is delayed, with cumulative rainfall well below average. Livestock body conditions and rangeland resources are deteriorating rapidly, raising growing concern over the drought's impact on pastoral and marginal agricultural areas.
    • In Sudan, the above-average June to September rainy season was beneficial for crop production prospects across most of the country, with the sorghum and millet harvest likely to begin in late October and November. However, there is some concern for the harvest in eastern Sudan due to the impact of flooding earlier in the season. Nationally, the harvest is expected to be below-average due to the impact of flooding, conflict, and poor macroeconomic conditions, which resulted in high prices of labor and agricultural inputs. With the end of the seasonal rains, rangeland resources are in good condition, but there are localized areas where pasture and forage have been impacted by waterlogging and flooding. Land preparation is underway for winter wheat crops, and planting is likely to begin in November.
    • In South Sudan, floods have affected an estimated 760,000 people in eight of South Sudan's 10 states, according to OCHA's most recent update for October 2021. Based on the flood extent and the size of the flood-affected population, the worst-affected areas include southern and northwestern Unity, northwestern Jonglei, and parts of Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal. As a result of floods and ongoing conflict, there are significant variations in harvest prospects between states. Overall, available field information suggests national crop production prospects for the 2021 main season are similar to better than 2020 and the five-year average but well below pre-conflict levels. However, large deficits are expected in Jonglei, Unity, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Upper Nile, and Warrap. As rainfall subsides, the risk of further crop losses depends on the slow pace of receding floodwaters and the lack of dry ground on which to dry harvested crops. Nationally, livestock production is mixed given the negative impacts of floods and conflict on livestock migration and productivity. Field assessments have confirmed atypical movement from flood-affected areas to higher grounds, including massive livestock displacement in Unity; Jonglei; Upper Nile; Aweil South of Northern Bahr el Ghazal; and Gogrial East, Gogrial West, and Greater Tonj of Warrap.
    • In Uganda, the ongoing September to December seasonal rains were characterized by an erratic but largely timely onset across the country, with planting taking place in most bimodal cropping zones. However, there are field reports of long dry spells and heavy rains that are likely to affect crop germination. The start of the rainy season has brought relief to the worst-drought impacted regions of Karamoja and parts of the northern districts. However, localized flash floods and landslides in eastern areas of Mt. Elgon have also occurred. In bimodal areas, available field and satellite-derived information indicate that second season cropping conditions are broadly favorable due to the recent rains. Currently planted cereal crops are in fair to good condition and at varying stages of growth from emergence to vegetative stages or flowering in a few locations where rains have been more favorable. However, in areas that received insufficient early rains, crops have wilted or dried up newly germinated crops, especially in parts of central, southern, and parts of northern Uganda. In areas where natural disasters occurred, crop losses have also occurred.
    • In Rwanda and Burundi, season A started in September and is likely to be fully established in both countries by the end of October. However, the eastern regions of Burundi are yet to receive sufficient rains for crop planting. There are concerns for a slightly delayed onset and early season rainfall deficits. Overall, rangeland conditions are generally near-average and expected to improve with the seasonal rains. Flood risks remain high over the western regions bordering Lake Tanganyika and DRC.
    • In Yemen, above-average to average rainfall was recorded in the western and southern regions, with better-than-average vegetation and crop conditions. Vegetation conditions for the rest of the country are near-average with slightly hotter-than-normal land surface temperatures. Little or no rains are forecast in the coming weeks, as the dry season gradually gets established in November and is likely to continue to March next year.


    According to the two-week rainfall outlook for November 10-24, 2021, there is an increased likelihood for continued moderate to heavy rains over the western sector of the region, particularly Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and western Kenya. However, much of the eastern Horn is likely to remain atypically dry, particularly in southeastern Ethiopia, central and southern Somalia, and northern, central, and coastal Kenya (Figure 3). Parts of southern Somalia and coastal Kenya are unlikely to experience any significant onset of the rains in November. The seasonal rains over southern Somalia are already over a month delayed, with no indication of improved conditions at the tail-end of its seasonal rains. The rest of the region is expected to remain extremely dry, with hotter-than-normal temperatures across much of the eastern Horn. Based on observed and forecast rainfall through November 20, there are likely to be rainfall deficits over much of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, southern and southeastern Ethiopia, central and southern Somalia, and eastern Kenya (Figure 4). Of particular concern are the deficits across the marginal agricultural and pastoral areas of the eastern Horn, where widespread rainfall deficits of less than 30 percent to 45 percent of average are anticipated. The eastern Horn marginal agricultural areas and pastoral regions rely heavily on these rains for crop production and rangeland resource regeneration. The establishment of La-Niña conditions over the Pacific Ocean and negative Indian Ocean Dipole conditions will likely continue to negatively impact rainfall, maintaining drought conditions across the eastern Horn. The recently published FEWS NET Alert report highlights the increasing concern for East Africa's poor deyr/short-rains season and the looming food insecurity crisis over the eastern Horn.


    Figure 1

    Figure 1.

    Source: FEWS NET/UC Santa Barbara Climate Hazards Center

    Figure 2

    Figure 2.

    Source: FEWS NET/USGS

    Figure 3

    Figure 3.

    Source: NOAA/CPC

    Figure 4

    Figure 4.

    Source: FEWS NET/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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