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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2019-267
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/nhess-2019-267
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 19 Aug 2019

Submitted as: research article | 19 Aug 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Natural Hazards and Earth System Sciences (NHESS).

Improving early warning of drought-driven food insecurity in Southern Africa using operational hydrological monitoring and forecasting products

Shraddhanand Shukla1, Kristi R. Arsenault2,3, Abheera Hazra4,3, Christa Peters-Lidard3, Randal D. Koster3, Frank Davenport1, Tamuka Magadzire5,1, Chris Funk6,1, Sujay Kumar3, Amy McNally2,5, Augusto Getirana4,3, Greg Husak1, Ben Zaitchik7, Jim Verdin8,5, Faka Dieudonne Nsadisa9, and Inbal Becker-Reshef3,4 Shraddhanand Shukla et al.
  • 1University of California, Santa Barbara, California, USA
  • 2SAIC, Reston, Virginia, USA
  • 3NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA
  • 4University of Maryland, Maryland, USA
  • 5Famine Early Warning Systems Network, Washington D.C., USA
  • 6EROS, United States Geological Survey, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, USA
  • 7John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
  • 8United States Agency for International Development, Washington D.C., USA
  • 9Southern African Development Community Climate Services Center, Botswana

Abstract. The region of southern Africa (SA) has a fragile food economy and is vulnerable to frequent droughts. In 2015–2016, an El Niño-driven drought resulted in major maize production shortfalls, food price increases, and livelihood disruptions that pushed 29 million people into severe food insecurity. Interventions to mitigate food insecurity impacts require early warning of droughts – preferably as early as possible before the harvest season (typically, starting in April) and lean season (typically, starting in November). Hydrologic monitoring and forecasting systems provide a unique opportunity to support early warning efforts, since they can provide regular updates on available rootzone soil moisture (RZSM), a critical variable for crop yield, and provide forecasts of RZSM by combining the estimates of antecedent soil moisture conditions with climate forecasts. For SA, this study documents the predictive capabilities of a recently developed NASA Hydrological Forecasting and Analysis System (NHyFAS). The NHyFAS system's ability to forecast and monitor the 2015/2016 drought event is evaluated. The system's capacity to explain interannual variations in regional crop yield and identify below-normal crop yield events is also evaluated. Results show that the NHyFAS products would have identified the regional severe drought event, which peaked during December–February of 2015/2016, at least as early as 1 November 2015. Next, it is shown that February RZSM forecasts produced as early as 1 November (4–5 months before the start of harvest and about a year before the start of the next lean season) correlate fairly well with regional crop yields (r = 0.49). The February RZSM monitoring product, available in early March, correlates with the regional crop yield with higher skill (r = 0.79). It is also found that when the February RZSM forecast produced on November 1 is indicated to be in the lowest tercile, the detrended regional crop yield is below normal about two-thirds (significance level ~ 86 %) of the time. Furthermore, when the February RZSM monitoring product (available in early March) indicates a lowest tercile value, the crop yield is always below normal, at least over the sample years considered. These results indicate that the NHyFAS products can effectively support food insecurity early warning in the SA region.

Shraddhanand Shukla et al.
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Short summary
The region of southern Africa is prone to drought-led food insecurity events, as demonstrated by recent major drought event in 2015–2016. This study demonstrates that a recently developed NASA Hydrological Forecasting and Analysis System (NHyFAS) based rootzone soil moisture monitoring and forecasting products can effectively explain interannual variability in regional crop yield and identify below normal crop yield events hence support the early warning of food insecurity in this region.
The region of southern Africa is prone to drought-led food insecurity events, as demonstrated by...
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