Earth ChangesS


Kenya drought worsens hunger risk

More than one million Kenyans risk facing hunger because of a prolonged drought, the UN has warned.
Kenya drought
© Agence France-PressePeople are saying it is the worst drought for years.

The lack of rains has caused crops to fail and cattle-herders are also struggling to keep their animals alive.

The worst affected areas are in the country's semi-arid south-east regions as well as some parts of central Kenya.

The World Food Programme (WFP) has described the crisis as a "very difficult situation" and appealed to donor countries to offer funds.

Currently some 2.5 million people are receiving emergency food aid in the country but the effect of the drought has meant that a further 1.3 million now also need help.

Bizarro Earth

Flashback Africa trapped in mega-drought cycle

© Timothy ShanahanBoys practice traditional fishing methods on Lake Bosumtwi in Ghana. Submerged trees provide evidence on long-lasting drought just a few centuries ago
The infamous 1970s drought of the African Sahel region, which lasted several decades and killed more than 100,000 people, was actually a "minor" event, say researchers who have uncovered evidence that such droughts occur cyclically in the region and can be much more severe.

Timothy Shanahan and colleagues at the University of Texas, Austin, analysed the first rainfall dataset that spans several millennia. "What's disconcerting about this record is that it suggests the most recent drought was relatively minor in the context of the West African drought history," he told New Scientist.

The researchers analysed a sediment core pulled from the bottom of Lake Bosumtwi, Ghana's only natural lake. The lake is an ancient meteorite impact crater, making its levels very dependent on rainfall.

By studying the relative amounts of different oxygen isotopes in the sediment core, the team could reconstruct rainfall dating back 3000 years. Higher concentrations of the slightly heavier - and therefore harder to evaporate - 18O indicate periods of drought.

Cloud Lightning

Upwards lightning caught on film

Scientists have photographed "upwards lightning", a rarely-seen phenomenon where electricity from storms flows into the upper atmosphere.

upwards lightning
Gigantic jets can travel more than 60km (40 miles) into the ionosphere
During last year's Tropical Storm Cristobal, lightning reached more than 60km (40 miles) up.

Also known as "gigantic jets", these events are just as powerful as cloud-to-ground lightning bolts.

The US team of researchers also took radio measurements of the electrical charge.

Bizarro Earth

Half of India affected by drought

India Drought
© Associated Press

Sharad Pawar said 246 districts in 10 states had been declared as drought affected. India has some 600 districts.

Separately, authorities in southern Andhra Pradesh state say they are probing whether the suicides of 20 farmers are linked to the drought.

This monsoon season has brought 29% less rainfall than normal.

Rice production in the country could decline by 10 million tonnes this year because of the drought, Mr Pawar said.

India produced nearly 100 million tonnes of rice during 2008-2009, according to official figures.

"Due to the expected reduced production of rice, there could be pressure on availability and market price," he added.


India to tackle drought shortfalls 'with imports'

India Drought
© Agence France-PresseThe annual monsoon is running at 26% below average.

New Delhi - India will import lentils, edible oil and other staples to cope with any shortfalls caused by a widespread drought that has badly hurt crops, the finance minister said Friday.

The statement by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came as the country of nearly 1.2 billion people faces its weakest monsoon in at least seven years.

"We shall go for imports" of "whichever commodity will be in short supply," Mukherjee told a state farm ministers' meeting in the Indian capital.

He noted supplies of pulses and edible oil were already running short. India is the world's largest consumer and importer of pulses.

But Mukherjee said India has enough grain stocks to tide it through for the moment.

"We are starting the drought year with good buffer stocks," Mukherjee said.

"The government has the experience to deal with such situations and we need not lose confidence in ourselves," he added.

The government would not announce the timing of any imports so as to avoid market prices being automatically jacked up, he said.

Cowboy Hat

Cattle, crop losses mount in Texas drought

Dallas - A vast swathe of Texas remains in the grip of a scorching drought, which has cost billions of dollars and is cleaving America's largest beef cattle herd.

One county has seen its entire cotton harvest wiped out and losses for cattle, crops and the state's fast growing game farming industry are seen mounting with no relief in sight. Texas is second only to California in U.S. farm production and the sector's sales for the state topped $21 billion in 2007.

The drought-stricken area straddles the central Texas hill country, near the capitol Austin, and stretches south through San Antonio to the Rio Grande Valley on the U.S./Mexico border, which is a key citrus and cattle region.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor here, much of this area is experiencing exceptional drought conditions. That is the worst possible ranking and it is the only part of the country that currently falls into this category.

Other areas of south/central Texas are suffering extreme conditions. In most of the affected counties the rains began to taper off sharply around September of 2007. In at least nine counties, the drought is the worst on record.

Cow Skull

Flashback Texas Drought So Bad They're 'Hoping for a Hurricane'

Lubbock - If not for the triple-digit heat, central Texas rancher Debbie Davis could almost think it was a different season entirely.

"The (pasture) grass looks like it's the dead of winter," said Davis, who raises beef cattle and Texas Longhorns northwest of San Antonio. The region is enduring its driest 22-month span going back to 1885. "It's horrible. It's probably the worst I've ever seen."

Usually it's West Texas that's hot and dry. Now, central and southern Texas are alone in the nation in experiencing the two most severe stages of drought. About 11 percent of the state was in "extreme" or "exceptional" drought as of June 30, up from 8 percent the previous week.

That's bad news for farmers and ranchers in the nation's No. 2 agriculture state behind California, who could lose billions in crops and livestock.

Ranchers are sending many more cattle to sale barns, which has driven prices down. There's little pastureland to graze on and the cost to ship hay in from out of state is high as is the price of supplemental feed.

Three years ago in a drought that spanned more than a year, Texas lost $4.1 billion, a crop and livestock record for a single year.


In California drought is the new normal

"Drought" sounds so temporary, but there's nothing temporary about the decreasing availability of water in Southern California.

As such, we need a new word - and a new attitude - to deal with the region's new reality: Water shortage is the new normal, and it's time to adjust accordingly.

Last week, state leaders began hearings on legislation to resolve California's water crisis. Solutions could include building a canal to carry water around the ecologically fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and mandates that Californians reduce water consumption.

Balancing the water claims of farmers, fishermen, environmentalists, households and industrial users is about as easy as negotiating a Middle East peace agreement. Yet, the status quo is unacceptable.

The situation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta has only worsened in the last few year. After a judge halted much of the water pumping from the delta to protect the tiny Delta smelt, some farmers in the San Joaquin Valley had to fallow fields for lack of water. Communities all over Southern California have imposed water-use restrictions. Meanwhile, the environmental damage to the delta is also blamed for shutting down commercial salmon fishing.


Flashback California facing worst drought in modern history

Echo Summit - State officials reported a Sierra Nevada snowpack smaller than normal on Thursday and said California may be at the beginning of its worst drought in modern history. Residents were immediately urged to conserve water.

The snowpack was about 61% of its usual depth across the 400-mile-long mountain range, according to the state Department of Water Resources, which released the findings as part of the second snow survey of the season.

Department Director Lester Snow said the results indicate California could be heading for a third dry year.

"We may be at the start of the worst California drought in modern history," Snow said in a statement. "It's imperative for Californians to conserve water immediately at home and in their businesses."

Measurements of snow depth and snow water content in the Sierra are important because they help hydrologists forecast how much water California can expect to get in the coming year.

Cloud Lightning

Hurricane Wave Sweeps 20 to Sea in Maine

rough surf hurricane bill
Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press

A young girl died and nine people were hospitalized Sunday after a rogue wave from Hurricane Bill slammed into a viewing platform near the ocean at a park in Maine.

A group of about 20 people had gathered on the platform at Thunder Hole in Acadia National Park to watch the waves, which had been stirred up by the hurricane, when five of them were swept out to sea, the Coast Guard said. The spot is a popular tourist attraction, where waves crashing into a rugged granite crevice can create thundering reverberations and high salt sprays. The platform is 10 to 15 feet above the water line, and waves along the coast were running up to 12 feet during the afternoon, according to the Coast Guard.

"This is absolutely the effects of Hurricane Bill," Sonya Berger, a park ranger, told The Associated Press.