CR 27:19-31 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/cr027019

Contrasting climate variability and meteorological drought with perceived drought and climate change in northern Ethiopia

Elisabeth Meze-Hausken*

Department of Geography, University of Bergen, Breiviken 40, 5045 Bergen-Sandviken, Norway

ABSTRACT: The rationale of this paper is to investigate peoples¹ perception of climate variability, climate change and drought frequency and compare it with measurements of rainfall variability and anomalies in northern Ethiopia. Statistical analysis of rainfall chronologies was performed and contrasted with qualitative data collected through a survey and questionnaires. Fieldwork studies showed that local authorities, farmers and pastoralists perceived regional climate to have changed during the last few decades. Farmers explained that they have been changing their farming strategies by shifting to more drought-resistant crops as well as to a shorter agricultural calendar. They attributed this to a loss of the spring rains since Œtheir father¹s time¹ (20-30 yr ago), as well as a shorter main summer wet period. The recent 2002 drought appears to have confirmed peoples¹ perceptions that there has been a shift in climate towards more unfavourable conditions. However, rainfall measurements do not show a downward trend in rainfall. Reasons for divergence between perceptions and rainfall measurements were explored. Some can be associated with changes in peoples¹ need for rainfall or be linked to various environmental changes which cause reduced water availability. Others can be related to the paucity of available daily data in a dense station network which could better support peoples¹ perceptions of change. In exploring these reasons, focus was given to the disagreement between optimal rainfall (i.e. amount and distribution sufficient for crop or pasture growth) and normal rainfall (i.e. the long-term statistical mean and its variation).


KEY WORDS: Climate change · Rainfall · Perceptions · Ethiopia


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