Partnered with the National Center for Atmospheric Research

Sub-Saharan Africa

Recent drought contributed to famine and dislocation, but past droughts have been worse.

Sub-Saharan Africa is a place of iconic drought and megadrought. The Sahel drought o the late 20th century was the longest and deadliest of droughts in the century, and yet even this devastating drought pales in contrast to much longer and more severe droughts of the last 3000 years. Megadroughts exceeding 100 years have occurred repeatedly across the expanse from West to East Africa during this period, and even longer and more severe droughts have occurred in the last million years. The origin of these megadroughts is still under investigation, but there seems little doubt that multiple factors contributed, including changes in seasonal radiation from the sun as controlled by well-known changes in the Earth’s orbit, changes in the climate of the North Atlantic, and possibly influences of large volcanic eruptions.

Though there was some amelioration of dry conditions into the 1990s continuing up to early 2000s, recent episodes of severe dry spells starting from 2010 have again brought millions of people under the risk of water scarcity, food insecurity and displacement.  Currently, an estimated 17-20 million people face these risks, with political instability in the region making an already difficult situation even worse. Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso are some of the nations worst affected by the crisis.