As local farmers will attest, East Africa’s climate is changing. Droughts are getting longer and heavy rains are causing more flooding.
Climate experts are not sure about the long term impact of increasing global temperature on East Africa. Many had assumed there would be increased precipitation during the rainy seasons due to a rise in Indian Ocean water temperature. However, a recent study has challenged this idea, showing that the Horn of Africa is drying faster than any time in the last 2,000 years.
Most models do agree that weather will be more intense, variable, and disruptive, with more frequent and prolonged droughts, perhaps alternating with more intense rains and flooding.
Climate change may affect the Serengeti ecosystem in several ways:
More frequent and severe droughts can have direct impacts on (a) the productivity of Serengeti grassland and its ability to sustain large herds of herbivores, and (b) on the level of the Mara River, the lifeblood of the Serengeti migration.
If the rainy season is heavier or prolonged, it may be favorable to wildlife but affect the normal seasonal movement of the large herds of wildebeest and zebra. They may stay in one region longer and disperse over a wider area instead moving on their usual mass migration toward wetter regions.
There will be increasing pressure on the agricultural sector in East Africa, which has a population growth rate among the highest in the world. From 1998 to 2008, the region’s population increased by 74%! It could double by 2050. This growth will increase the demand for crops, which will require more water. Kenya will need to rely more on irrigation than rainfall, especially during droughts, likely drawing water from the Mara River for agriculture. Of course, prolonged drought will be devastating for farmers and herders alike.
What is certain, the impacts of climate change are growing and have the potential to set back socio-economic gains and drive more people into poverty. Wildlife conservation under such circumstances would have to take a back seat. This gives more urgency for wise planning policies, not just for the Serengeti, but more importantly for the people of East Africa.
“The countries of East Africa have among the highest population increases in the world: between 1988 and 2008 the region’s population – excluding that of the DRC – increased by “a staggering” 74 percent. By 2050, that population could double.
Crop production across the region depends overwhelmingly on rainfall. Many areas are likely to see less rainfall in future and an increased incidence of droughts. In 2011 there were prolonged droughts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.”