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At a briefing for the United Nations Security Council, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice spoke at length about conflict, insecurity and vulnerability in the Sahel region, and the persistent drought overlaying it all. She also highlighted the U.S. role in assisting the region, stating:
The U.S. has committed more than $445 million in 2012 to humanitarian assistance for drought-affected and conflict-displaced communities in the Sahel. We intend these resources to alleviate the dire situation at hand, reduce chronic vulnerability, and ultimately to promote more inclusive growth.
These are, of course, worthy aims. But in order to truly succeed, plans for reducing chronic vulnerabilities in the Sahel will need significant “climate-proofing,” given the region’s worrying climate forecast. As we have indicated previously:
There is strong evidence that climatic conditions in the Sahel have been steadily growing worse, particularly in regards to rainfall levels. According to at least six studies of this phenomenon, highlighted by UNEP in 2006 (see page 3), “the second half of the 20th century has witnessed a dramatic reduction in mean annual rainfall throughout the region.” A 2005 NOAA report attributed the low rainfall to changes in sea surface temperature (likely caused by a combination of natural variability and human-induced change), and both a NOAA study in 2006, and another by Shanahan et al in 2009, attributed drought in the West African Sahel to the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which is responsive to sea surface temperature changes.
Absent significant and smart investments in climate adaptation measures, the Sahel may face an even more fragile future. Hopefully, the United States will be in a position to play a leadership role in helping to generate such resources.