In parts of eastern Africa, drought is of increasing concern, as poor families suffer from food shortages and the inability to grow crops and sustain livestock. Stunted growth in children due to malnutrition has also been linked to climate trends in Africa.
Drought conditions are expected to continue as global temperatures continue to rise and rainfall declines across parts of eastern Africa.
This poses increased risk to millions of people in Africa who currently face potential food shortages.
What's being done to help?
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is involved in a variety of research efforts to help understand current and future conditions in Africa, helping to inform plans to provide aid.
The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is one endeavor that has already made great strides in helping to address this issue. FEWS NET helps target more than $1.5 billion of assistance to more than 40 countries each year.
FEWS NET examines the populations of the developing world with the most food insecurity, identifying critical situations in which food aid will be needed. These are populations whose livelihoods are typically tied to subsistence rain-fed agriculture and pastoralism.
FEWS NET is sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Food for Peace, and the USGS is actively involved.
FEWS NET at the United Nations Climate Convention
A USGS presentation on FEWS NET will be a featured side event Nov. 30 at the United Nations 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP-17) in Durban, South Africa. The convention's purpose is to develop international agreements and a declaration of policies and practices for combating climate change and its impacts around the world.
Climate forecasts and remote sensing help spot future trouble
FEWS NET has developed its own climate services to provide decision makers with early identification of agricultural drought that might trigger food insecurity. Scientists use climate forecasts to develop forward-looking food security assessments that are based on expected agricultural outcomes for the season ahead.
Since networks of ground observation stations are often sparse or reported late in FEWS NET countries, satellite remote sensing of vegetation and rainfall fills in the gaps. Remote sensing from space allows for rapid, accurate assessments of a broad range of environmental and agricultural conditions. USGS scientists provide the technologies and expertise to support remote sensing for FEWS NET activities.
Early warning of famine in Somalia helps pre-position food supplies
On July 20, 2011, the United Nations declared parts of Somalia as a region of famine. The decision was supported by FEWS NET and USGS observational evidence of conditions in the area.
The declaration was the culmination of early warning communications encouraging—months before the crisis—that government and other agencies pre-position food and supplies in the region.
“None of the many uses of Earth-observing satellites is more vital—or has as much potential for prompting timely humanitarian intervention—as famine early warning,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. “Remote sensing from space allows USGS scientists to provide rapid, accurate assessments of a broad range of environmental and agricultural conditions.”
The eastern Horn of Africa, the continental region that encompasses Somalia, has experienced two consecutive seasons of very poor rainfall resulting in the worst drought in 60 years. Crops have failed, livestock deaths are widespread and food prices are very high. While the rains this winter have been good, food prices remain high, and the food security situation remains insecure.
Stunted growth linked to malnutrition and climate change
Other USGS research is helping to identify the impacts of a changing climate on Africa's people. Scientists recently discovered that malnutrition and dry hot living conditions are linked to stunted growth in Mali, West Africa.
USGS research found that Mali was becoming substantially warmer and a little bit drier. Scientists also knew that farmers and those who make a living raising sheep, cattle, goats, or camels were poor, and that stunted growth was occurring throughout Mali.
Scientists wondered if there could be a link between human health and increasingly warm and dry conditions.
To investigate, the USGS worked with the University of California, Santa Barbara, to study climate observations and demographic and health data. The Demographic and Health Survey program routinely compiles data from surveys in 90 countries to study trends in health and population. Scientists analyzed statistics on specific villages in Mali and found that there was a link between a warmer climate and increased stunting.
Population growth combined with the impacts of warming will further increase these health impacts.
Stunting was also linked to other factors, such as mother's education and the water supply system. Women’s education, improved water supplies and agricultural development could help to address malnutrition and stunting in Mali.
An article on this research was published in in the journal Applied Geography, by San Diego State University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the USGS.
Other studies underway
Other new research includes the discovery that the warming of the Indian and western Pacific oceans (which is linked to global warming) affects rainfall over large areas of the Horn of Africa. As the globe has warmed over the last century, the Indian Ocean and western Pacific have warmed especially fast.
The resulting warmer air and increased humidity over the Indian and western Pacific oceans produce more frequent rainfall in that region. The air loses its moisture during rainfall, and then flows westward and descends over Africa, leading to decreased rain in parts of eastern Africa. Trends toward increased frequency of drought that we are seeing now are likely to continue into the future as warming continues.
A few recent articles on this research were published in the journal Climate Dynamics, by scientists with the USGS, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The most recent article concludes that global warming will lead to a decrease in rainfall during the summer monsoon season, from June to September, across southern Sudan, southern Ethiopia and northern Uganda. Another article concluded that eastern Africa, particularly Kenya and southern Ethiopia, will also have a significant decrease in rainfall during the long-rains season from March to June.
USGS scientists are working hard to translate these technical studies into reports for decision makers. To date, they have completed summary fact sheets focused on Sudan and Kenya.
Scientists also found that some regions, like northern Ethiopia, are not getting drier due to current warming temperatures. Rainfall varies dramatically across all of eastern Africa, with high mountainous areas typically receiving many times the rainfall received in low-lying areas. Therefore, agricultural growth in these climatically safe regions could help offset rainfall declines in other locations.
Start with science
Scientists are looking at clues and changes in nature to understand the impacts of global warming. In Africa, impacts are seen across the landscape—on farms and even in humans.
By starting with science, well-informed decisions can be made to help Africa as it faces drought, famine and health concerns.
FEWS NET partners include the USAID, Chemonics International, the USGS, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Geography Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is a partner to the USGS in this effort.
For more information, click here.
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A report scheduled for release later Tuesday by Congress' non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the Trump administration undervalues the costs of the climate crisis in order to push deregulation and rollbacks of environmental protections, according to The New York Times.
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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By Eoin Higgins
Over 300 groups on Monday urged Senate leadership to reject a bill currently under consideration that would incentivize communities to sell off their public water supplies to private companies for pennies on the dollar.
<div id="fea63" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9a6f211c2bc5aedd34837944cb8eeedf"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1281000111481294849" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Water in Illinois is overwhelmingly public. Why is Tammy Duckworth sponsoring a bill that aims to change that? https://t.co/1V36Kkd99s</div> — The American Prospect (@The American Prospect)<a href="https://twitter.com/TheProspect/statuses/1281000111481294849">1594249201.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Alyssa Murdoch, Chrystal Mantyka-Pringle and Sapna Sharma
Summer has finally arrived in the northern reaches of Canada and Alaska, liberating hundreds of thousands of northern stream fish from their wintering habitats.
A Good News Story?<p>On the surface, the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/fwb.13569" target="_blank">results from our study</a> appear to provide a "good news" story. Warming temperatures were linked to higher numbers of fish, more species overall and, therefore, potentially more fishing opportunities for northerners.</p><p>Initially, we were surprised to learn that warming was increasing the distribution of cold-adapted fish. We reasoned that modest amounts of warming could lead to benefits such as increased food and winter habitat availability without reaching stressful levels for many species.</p>
Photo of Arctic grayling (left) and Dolly Varden trout (right). Alyssa Murdoch / Lilian Tran / Nunavik Research Centre and Tracey Loewen / Fisheries and Oceans Canada<p>Yet, not all fish species fared equally well. Ecologically unique northern species — those that have evolved in colder, more nutrient-poor environments, such as Arctic grayling and Dolly Varden trout — were showing declines with warming.</p>
Fish Strandings and Buried Eggs<p>Recent news headlines run the gamut for Pacific salmon — from their increased escapades <a href="https://nunatsiaq.com/stories/article/more-pacific-salmon-showing-up-in-western-arctic-waters/" target="_blank">into the Arctic</a> to <a href="https://www.juneauempire.com/news/warm-waters-across-alaska-cause-salmon-die-offs/" target="_blank">massive pre-spawning die-offs</a> in central Alaska. Similarly, results from our study revealed different outcomes for fish depending on local climatic conditions, including Pacific salmon.</p><p>We found that warmer spring and fall temperatures may be helping juvenile salmon by providing a longer and more plentiful growing season, and by supporting early egg development in northern regions that were previously too cold for survival.</p><p>In contrast, salmon declined in regions that were experiencing wetter fall conditions, pointing to an increased risk of flooding and sedimentation that could bury or dislodge incubating eggs.</p>
Headwaters of the Wind River within the largely intact Peel River watershed in northern Canada. Don Reid / Wildlife Conservation Society Canada / Author provided<p>Interestingly, we found that certain climatic combinations, such as warmer summer water temperatures with decreased summer rainfall, were important in determining where Pacific salmon could survive. Summer warming in drier watersheds led to declines, suggesting that lowered streamflows may have increased the risk of fish becoming stranded in subpar habitats that were too warm and crowded.</p>
The Fate of Northern Fisheries<p>The promise of a warmer and more accessible Arctic has attracted mounting interest in new economic opportunities, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.103637" target="_blank">including fisheries</a>. As warming rates at higher latitudes are already <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank">two to three times global levels</a>, it seems probable that northern biodiversity will experience dramatic shifts in the coming decades.</p><p>Despite the many unknowns surrounding the future of Pacific salmon, many fisheries are currently <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/03632415.2017.1374251" target="_blank">thriving following warmer and more productive northern oceans</a>, and some <a href="https://doi.org/10.14430/arctic68876" target="_blank">Arctic Indigenous communities are developing new salmon fisheries</a>.</p><p>As warming continues, the commercial salmon fishing industry is poised to expand northwards, but its success will largely depend on extenuating factors such as <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1060023067" target="_blank">changes to marine habitat and food sources</a> and <a href="https://www.yukon-news.com/news/promising-chinook-salmon-run-failed-to-materialize-in-the-yukon-river-panel-hears/" target="_blank">how many fish are caught during the freshwater stages of their journey</a>.</p><p>Even with the potential for increased northern biodiversity, it is important to recognize that some northern communities may be unable to adapt or may <a href="https://thenarwhal.ca/searching-for-the-yukon-rivers-missing-chinook/" target="_blank">lose individual species that are associated with important cultural values</a>.</p>
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A heat wave that set in over the South and Southwest left much of the U.S. blanketed in record-breaking triple digit temperatures over the weekend. The widespread and intense heat wave will last for weeks, making the magnitude and duration of its heat impressive, according to The Washington Post.
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