Essay about Adapting to Drought in the Sahel: Lessons for Climate Change

7492 Words Aug 24th, 2013 30 Pages
Adapting to drought in the Sahel: lessons for climate change
Michael Mortimore∗
The Sahel’s experience of adapting to changes in rainfall on a scale at least comparable to that of climate change scenarios, between the 1960s and the 1990s, suggests that lessons can be learnt that may have a wider utility for policy in the future. The Sahel is a major global agroecological region and its success in adaptation will influence the achievement of the global Millennium Development Goals. From simple typologies of adaptation strategies, our understanding of adaptive capacity has evolved over time (with accumulating observations) into a contextual model which places drought management at the center of a development process. Climate change impacts
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In the Sahel, aridity and rainfall variability increase with latitude, in line with a declining
∗ Correspondence

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to: mike@mikemortimore.co.uk

Drylands Research, Cutters’ Cottage, Glovers’ Close, Milborne Port, Sherborne DT9 5ER, UK DOI: 10.1002/wcc.025

gradient of about 145 mm/100 km in mean annual rainfall. Between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s, annual rainfall declined by 25–30% depending on location. At Kano, e.g., average annual rainfall was 853 mm in 1931–1960; 826 mm in 1941–1970; 807 mm in 1951–1980; and 714 mm in 1961–1990.6 The isohyets of mean annual rainfall (in 1940–1967 and 1968–2000) migrated southwards by up to 100 km.b There was an increased frequency of drought events, within a heightened variability trend, both between years and within seasons. Growing seasons were significantly shortened by late starts and early finishes. The magnitude of these changes was as great as any predicted in global climate change scenarios up to 2050.7 The human ecological systems found in the Sahel were adapted to a great diversity of natural conditions—both in the rainfall regimes and in the soil formations, which are derived predominantly from former desert dunes and from dry lateritic plateaux, with wetlands and a very few perennial river valleys interspersed. On this unpromising terrain, a remarkable diversity of cultures, languages, political entities, and production systems developed during more than a thousand years.8 The Sahel is

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