Moderate drought on Madagascar is more a result of El Niño than climate change, study finds

A humanitarian crisis caused by the island nation’s drought is largely a result of erratic rainfall, rather than climate change, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers compared data from 40 years of climate change from all the landmasses in the Southern Hemisphere. And they concluded that the decrease in precipitation was caused primarily by El Niño conditions.

Earth’s pattern of El Niño and La Niña weather systems in the Pacific is responsible for changing weather patterns across the globe.

The new study found that the effects of El Niño were much more pronounced in the dry areas of Madagascar, while the tropical wetter locations did not experience significant reductions in rainfall. That’s crucial information for members of the international community who have been using climate models to predict which regions will be hit most by climate change over the next 50 years.

“I’m very proud of our team and our findings. Despite such a significant amount of work, we were able to provide detailed, evidence-based insights about the declining precipitation profile over Madagascar,” Sarah Doole, one of the study’s co-authors and an assistant professor at the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Brown University, said in a statement.

The study follows an agreement signed by 150 countries in May in which they agreed to adapt to the “green economy” model of financing assistance to developing countries. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called for countries in the absence of an emissions-cutting treaty to raise their net climate-change mitigation and adaptation budgets by about 1.5 percent of GDP per year, beginning in 2020.

The new study said Madagascar receives 10 times more rainfall than the average sub-Saharan African country. So its food security crisis is not entirely due to global warming.

“Despite the rapid deployment of climate-change adaptation strategies worldwide, countries are still plagued by drought,” co-author and scientist Mikael Lippman said in a statement. “The cyclical nature of these natural shocks means adaptation efforts are in the best position to tackle issues other than whether food is more available.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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