The deep blue waters of the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean form a stark contrast to the arid red and tan lands of the Horn of Africa. On February 9, 2011, when the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) aboard the Aqua satellite captured this true-color image, East Africa was in the throes of a severe drought. The land is so dry that only small hints of green vegetation can be found and only in the normally green mountains of Ethiopia.
On February 8, World Vision announced that years of unrelenting drought have thrown the Horn of Africa into a humanitarian crisis threatening the lives of millions of families, including more than 6 million people in Kenya and Somalia. In the past two months, water prices in Somalia alone have increased as much as 300 percent.
Drought is not unusual in the region. Winds that carry tropical monsoon rains blow in from the west, and drop most of their moisture in mountainous regions before reaching the eastern lowlands of the Horn. In Ethiopia’s mountains, some areas record annual average rainfall greater than 2,000 mm (80 in) per year, while on the coast rainfall is almost negligible – the mean annual rainfall can be as low as 50 mm (2 in) in some areas of coastal Somalia.
In most parts of East Africa a typical December, coming at the end of a two to three month rainy season, brings rain. Then the weather turns dry from January to March. In 2010, however, a light rainy season ended in November, while December was hot and dry. According to the UN-funded Somalia Water and Land Information Management program, two thirds of Somalia received less than 75 percent of normal rainfall in this wet season. The resulting widespread deaths of livestock have deprived many rural Somalis of access to such basic staples as milk and food. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in search of pastures, food and water.