Scientists: El Niño not responsible for East African floods

NAIROBI, May 24 – The El Niño weather pattern had “no influence” on widespread flooding that killed hundreds of people in East Africa this year, a group of expert scientists said today.

Torrential rains in Kenya, Tanzania and neighboring countries killed more than 500 people, displacing hundreds of thousands as the deluge swept away homes and flooded roads during the March-May monsoon season.



The region was also hit by flooding late last year, and researchers said the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), a climate system defined by the difference in sea surface temperature between the western and eastern areas of the ocean, contributed to the heavy rains.

This year’s rains were believed to have been exacerbated by El Niño, a climate phenomenon typically associated with increased heat that causes droughts in some parts of the world and heavy downpours in other parts.

But a study published Friday by the group World Weather Attribution (WWA) found that “researchers found no evidence that El Niño or the Indian Ocean Dipole had any influence” on this year’s extreme rainfall.

The network of scientists has developed peer-reviewed methods to quickly establish the potential role of global warming in specific extreme weather events.

Scientists examined weather data and climate models to compare how rainfall patterns have changed from now to the pre-industrial era as they sought to measure the impact of climate change on the monsoon.

“Extreme rainfall that caused destructive flooding in Kenya, Tanzania and other parts of East Africa is becoming more intense, with climate change as one of the drivers,” the researchers said.

“The best estimate is that climate change made the event twice as likely and five percent more intense,” they said, adding a caveat that the findings also had to take into account “large mathematical uncertainty.”

The study covered the “30-day maximum rainfall” during this year’s monsoon season, with the researchers noting that “heavy rainfall will continue to increase in the region as warming increases.”

Improve infrastructure

The study urged governments in the region to improve infrastructure and protect ecosystems to save lives and help citizens cope with the increased risk of climate disasters, especially in densely populated urban areas.

East Africa and the Horn of Africa are among the regions most vulnerable to climate change, although the continent’s contribution to global carbon emissions is a fraction of the total.

More than 300 people died from rains and floods in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia late last year, just as the region was trying to recover from its worst drought in four decades that left millions of people hungry.

A WWA study into last year’s floods in East Africa called for the urgent phase-out of fossil fuels and reductions in emissions globally. — AFP

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