The Alan Sondheim Mail Archive

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 4 Oct 2006 21:18:13 -0400
From: moderator@PORTSIDE.ORG
Subject: The Century of Drought

The Century of Drought
The Independent
October 4, 2006

One third of the planet will be desert by the year
2100, say climate experts in the most dire warning yet
of the effects of global warming

By Michael McCarthy, Environmental Editor

Drought threatening the lives of millions will spread
across half the land surface of the Earth in the coming
century because of global warming, according to new
predictions from Britain's leading climate scientists.

Extreme drought, in which agriculture is in effect
impossible, will affect about a third of the planet,
according to the study from the Met Office's Hadley
Centre for Climate Prediction and Research.

It is one of the most dire forecasts so far of the
potential effects of rising temperatures around the
world - yet it may be an underestimation, the
scientists involved said yesterday.

The findings, released at the Climate Clinic at the
Conservative Party conference in Bournemouth, drew
astonished and dismayed reactions from aid agencies and
development specialists, who fear that the poor of
developing countries will be worst hit.

"This is genuinely terrifying," said Andrew Pendleton
of Christian Aid. "It is a death sentence for many
millions of people. It will mean migration off the land
at levels we have not seen before, and at levels poor
countries cannot cope with."

One of Britain's leading experts on the effects of
climate change on the developing countries, Andrew
Simms from the New Economics Foundation, said: "There's
almost no aspect of life in the developing countries
that these predictions don't undermine - the ability to
grow food, the ability to have a safe sanitation
system, the availability of water. For hundreds of
millions of people for whom getting through the day is
already a struggle, this is going to push them over the

The findings represent the first time that the threat
of increased drought from climate change has been
quantified with a supercomputer climate model such as
the one operated by the Hadley Centre.

Their impact is likely to even greater because the
findings may be an underestimate. The study did not
include potential effects on drought from global-
warming-induced changes to the Earth's carbon cycle.

In one unpublished Met Office study, when the carbon
cycle effects are included, future drought is even

The results are regarded as most valid at the global
level, but the clear implication is that the parts of
the world already stricken by drought, such as Africa,
will be the places where the projected increase will
have the most severe effects.

The study, by Eleanor Burke and two Hadley Centre
colleagues, models how a measure of drought known as
the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) is likely to
increase globally during the coming century with
predicted changes in rainfall and heat around the world
because of climate change. It shows the PDSI figure for
moderate drought, currently at 25 per cent of the
Earth's surface, rising to 50 per cent by 2100, the
figure for severe drought, currently at about 8 per
cent, rising to 40 cent, and the figure for extreme
drought, currently 3 per cent, rising to 30 per cent.

Senior Met Office scientists are sensitive about the
study, funded by the Department for Environment, Food
and Rural Affairs, stressing it contains uncertainties:
there is only one climate model involved, one future
scenario for emissions of greenhouse gases (a moderate-
to-high one) and one drought index. Nevertheless, the
result is "significant", according to Vicky Pope, the
head of the Hadley Centre's climate programme. Further
work would now be taking place to try to assess the
potential risk of different levels of drought in
different places, she said.

The full study - Modelling the Recent Evolution of
Global Drought and Projections for the 21st Century
with the Hadley Centre Climate Model - will be
published later this month in The Journal of
Hydrometeorology .

It will be widely publicised by the British Government
at the negotiations in Nairobi in November on a
successor to the Kyoto climate treaty. But a preview of
it was given by Dr Burke in a presentation to the
Climate Clinic, which was formed by environmental
groups, with The Independent as media partner, to press
politicians for tougher action on climate change. The
Climate Clinic has been in operation at all the party

While the study will be seen as a cause for great
concern, it is the figure for the increase in extreme
drought that some observers find most frightening.

"We're talking about 30 per cent of the world's land
surface becoming essentially uninhabitable in terms of
agricultural production in the space of a few decades,"
Mark Lynas, the author of High Tide, the first major
account of the visible effects of global warming around
the world, said. "These are parts of the world where
hundreds of millions of people will no longer be able
to feed themselves."

Mr Pendleton said: "This means you're talking about any
form of development going straight out of the window.
The vast majority of poor people in the developing
world are small-scale farmers who... rely on rain."

A glimpse of what lies ahead

The sun beats down across northern Kenya's Rift Valley,
turning brown what was once green. Farmers and nomadic
herders are waiting with bated breath for the arrival
of the "short" rains - a few weeks of intense rainfall
that will ensure their crops grow and their cattle can

The short rains are due in the next month. Last year
they never came; large swaths of the Horn of Africa
stayed brown. From Ethiopia and Eritrea, through
Somalia and down into Tanzania, 11 million people were
at risk of hunger.

This devastating image of a drought-ravaged region
offers a glimpse of what lies ahead for large parts of
the planet as global warming takes hold.

In Kenya, the animals died first. The nomadic herders'
one source of sustenance and income - their cattle -
perished with nothing to eat and nothing to drink.
Bleached skeletons of cows and goats littered the
barren landscape.

The number of food emergencies in Africa each year has
almost tripled since the 1980s. Across sub-Saharan
Africa, one in three people is under-nourished. Poor
governance has played a part.

Pastoralist communities suffer most, rather than
farmers and urban dwellers. Nomadic herders will walk
for weeks to find a water hole or riverbed. As
resources dwindle, fighting between tribes over scarce
resources becomes common.

One of the most critical issues is under-investment in
pastoralist areas. Here, roads are rare, schools and
hospitals almost non-existent.

Nomadic herders in Turkana, northern Kenya, who saw
their cattle die last year, are making adjustments to
their way of life. When charities offered new cattle,
they said no. Instead, they asked for donkeys and
camels - animals more likely to survive hard times.

Pastoralists have little other than their animals to
rely on. But projects which provide them with money to
buy food elsewhere have proved effective, in the short
term at least.


portside (the left side in nautical parlance) is a news,
discussion and debate service of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. It aims to
provide varied material of interest to people on the

To submit an article to portside, go to:

For answers to frequently asked questions:

To subscribe to the list:

To unsubscribe from portside:

For assistance with your account:

To search the portside archive:

Generated by Mnemosyne 0.12.