Wildlife

California tortoises died trying to reproduce during drought

Scientists examining the deaths of female desert tortoises in Southern California said it appears the animals died while exhausting their water and energy to lay eggs during California’s historic drought.

Researchers want to know why female tortoises are dying in greater numbers than males in the Joshua Tree National Park.

U.S. Geological Survey biologist Jeffrey Lovich said he believes the tortoises died during a desperate attempt to fight extinction. He called it an “evolutionary gamble” — choosing to try and reproduce despite harsh conditions.

“Females will go out of their way to produce a clutch of four or so eggs,” Lovich told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “They’ll do it during a drought, when they can’t find the water they need, to have a chance to win at the game of life.”

Over the past three decades, Joshua Tree’s tortoise population has plummeted from about 30,000 to an all-time low of roughly 3,000.

Desert tortoises are a threatened species that typically have 50-year lifespans in the wild, with some living 80 years.

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Chimp Extinction

Tanzanian experts fear that chimpanzees could join elephants and rhinos as the most threatened wildlife species in the country due to their dwindling populations.

“A hundred years ago, there were probably 2 million, but now only 150,000 to 200,000,” said Anthony Collins, a baboon researcher at Gombe Stream National Park.

He told Tanzania’s The Citizen daily that destruction of habitat, illegal hunting and capture for medical research are the greatest threats to the chimps’ survival.

Environment

Out of Thin Air

A new device that can harvest water out of air with humidity as low as 20 percent, using only sunlight for energy, could revolutionize life in remote, arid regions.

The new invention uses an extremely porous material called a metal-organic framework that absorbs 20 percent of its weight in water from even low-humidity air.

Sunlight heats the substance, releasing water vapor that condenses into ample water per day for household use. Developers say the invention could be upscaled to also irrigate fields or greenhouses in areas otherwise too arid to grow crops.

Drought

Drought Violence in Kenya

At least 10 people have been killed in the latest clashes in drought-hit Kenya between rural communities fighting over pasture to graze their animals, police said on Monday. Kenya, like elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, is suffering from serious drought.

Herders from the Borana and Samburu communities fought a gun battle on Sunday in an area in the centre of the country called Kom, where both groups had taken their livestock to graze, said Charles Ontita, police chief of the town of Isiolo.

The deaths come a week after 13 people were killed in the western Baringo region when Ilchamus and Pokot herdsmen clashed over grazing at an area called Mukutani.

Drought

Drought in Somalia

At least 110 people, most of them women and children, have died from starvation and drought-related illness in Somalia in the past 48 hours, Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire said Saturday.

The death toll covers those who died in the rural areas of Somalia’s southwestern Bay region where the drought is more severe than other parts of the country. It was not immediately clear how many others have died in the rest of the country.

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Drought

Drought in Kenya

Kenya declared a national disaster on Friday, calling for aid to counter drought that is posing a major risk to people, livestock and wildlife.

The Kenya Red Cross has estimated around 2.7 million people are in need of food aid after low rainfall in October and November and the next rainy season not due before April.

The UN World Food Programme said it was short of $22 million for the next six to nine months to provide support such as school meals for 428,000 children who often depend on them as their only substantial meal of the day.

Early this month, residents in drought-struck northern Kenya said at least 11 people were killed and a tourist lodge torched due to conflicts when armed cattle herders flooded onto farms and wildlife reserves.

Drought

Drought in Sri Lanka

The Sri Lankan government declared a state of alert in response to what is already considered the worst drought in four decades, implementing measures such as water-use restrictions. The National Water Supply and Sanitation Council warned on Sunday of the need to rationalize the consumption of drinking water, as the currently available reserve is only expected to last for two months.

Environment

California’s Long Drought Has Killed 100 Million Trees

The lingering drought in California has killed more than 100 million trees, according to the U.S. Forest Service’s latest aerial survey.

The recent death count found that 62 million trees have died just this year in California, bringing the six-year total to more than 102 million. More than five years of drought are to blame for the tree deaths, scientists said, adding that tree “fatalities” increased by 100 percent in 2016.

The agency said that millions of additional trees are expected to die in the coming months and years. California’s drought has affected 7.7 million acres of forests, putting the region’s whole ecology at risk.

With more dead trees in forests, wildfires have a “fuel buildup” that could lead to large, unpredictable fires. California has experienced longer, hotter fire seasons in recent years, and USFS scientists said that they expect tree mortality to continue at elevated levels in 2017.

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Global Warming

Global Warming and Drought in Bolivia

For weeks, hundreds of thousands of Bolivians have been stricken with drought, with some neighbourhoods receiving water for only three hours every three days. Armed forces drive tanks into affected communities, where families form long lines to collect water. The drought became so fierce recently that schools in three regions of the country decided to cut the school year short two weeks before summer break.

The country is in the midst of its worst drought in 25 years, as three reservoirs that supply its largest city, La Paz, are almost entirely dried up. For the first time, the government has put into effect water rationing, affecting more than 177,000 families across the country, Reuters reported. In response, the government has provided aid, including bottled water, to about 145,000 drought-stricken families, Reuters reported.

The severity of the drought escalated last week, when President Evo Morales declared a national state of emergency, insisting that Bolivians “have to be prepared for the worst.” And earlier this week, Chile’s government offered to provide humanitarian aid to help Bolivia confront the national emergency, El Deber reported.

Hospitals are working at half capacity, suspending non-emergency surgeries and dialysis, the Guardian reported. In the poor neighbourhoods of southern Sucre, taps have run dry for three weeks, and in the southern highlands, where most of the country’s quinoa is grown, the 2016 crop has been slashed in half. Cattle have been wiped out, and two of the country’s lakes have run completely dry.

Experts say the country’s water shortages are caused or exacerbated by rising temperatures and the El Niño weather phenomenon in the Pacific. Additionally, booming migration to the country’s largest cities has pressured resources, particularly water, and the country’s limited infrastructure has struggled to keep up. Environmental advocates also say the drought reveals the impact of large-scale agriculture and mining projects, which divert water supplies and contaminate lakes and other water sources, Reuters reported.

Drought

Drought in Southern Africa

Southern Africa is in the midst of its most severe drought in 35 years, and according to a UN climate envoy, things are forecast to worsen over the months ahead.

Following a four-day trip to Mozambique, special envoy on El Niño and climate change Macharia Kamau said “[t]he crisis has yet to peak.” He highlights that the devastating drought will be at its worst at or near January of 2017.

Approximately 18 million people have been affected by the drought’s widespread impacts, region-wide. Among the worst-hit countries is Mozambique, with 1.5 million suffering from extreme heat. Zimbabwe, Malawi, Lesotho, and southern Madagascar also fall in the same group.

For many children, women and the elderly, the next few months will be about looking at survival straight in the face. Parts of Mozambique have been water-starved for years — with certain areas seeing no rainfall for as much as three years, the nation’s disaster management agency reports.

El Niño, which affects rainfall patters by influencing flooding and drought, has been pegged as the cause of the detrimental drought.

Drought

Drought in Madagascar

A severe drought in southern Madagascar has led to major food shortages across the island nation, raising the risk of widespread famine.

UN agencies warned of a potential “catastrophe”, as around half of the population in southern Madagascar – nearly 850,000 people – are experiencing “alarming” levels of hunger.

This is the third consecutive year in a row that crops have failed and water availability is extremely low.

The drought has left around 20 percent of households in southern Madagascar experiencing emergency levels of hunger.

Wildlife

Hippo-Sized Drought

A protracted drought in southwestern Africa has not only left more than a half-million humans in urgent need of food aid, but it has also affected thousands of endangered animals.

Namibia’s New Era reports that the drying up of the Chobe River is causing hippos and crocodiles to become trapped in muddy pools developing along the waterway.

“Hippos are known to be territorial animals. Even if the pools dry up, they just stay there,” environment official Colgar Sikopo told the state-owned daily.

Wildfires

California Drought Increases Wildfire Risk

Since 2010, at least 66 million trees have died in California due to drought and rising temperatures, the U.S. Forest Service reported. At last count in October, the death toll was at 40 million trees.

The ongoing, five-year drought in California has made trees increasingly vulnerable to insects and disease and the 65 percent increase in tree die-off has officials concerned about the possibility of a disastrous wildfire season.

Dead trees are seen near Bass Lake in the Sierra National Forest.

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Drought

Drought in Central America

Around 2.8 million people in three Central American countries need food aid after two consecutive years of severe drought decimated crops and exacerbated hunger among the poor, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said.

Prolonged dry spells since mid-2014, linked to the El Niño weather phenomenon, have battered subsistence farmers in Central America’s “dry corridor” running through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras.

Poor rainfall has left parched, cracked soil, fields of withered maize and bean crops, and empty water wells in these areas.

Some 3.5 million people are struggling to feed themselves in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, and of that number 2.8 million rely on food aid to survive, the FAO said.

Drought in Central India

Some 400 farmers have killed themselves so far this year in the parched Marathwada region, which is home to about 19 million people. It’s located in the otherwise prosperous Maharashtra state, a central Indian region devastated by two successive failed monsoons and a crippling drought.

The dry wells, shrivelled stubble of sugarcane fields and withered fruit trees across the region reflect the suffering of hundreds of millions of Indians across at least a dozen other states that are under the grips of a severe drought.

Monsoon showers, which normally run from June to September, are crucial in a country where 60 percent of the population works in agriculture and less than half the farmland is irrigated.

For the average farmer, who lives and earns from season to season, a poor monsoon means food must be carefully rationed because he has little money to spend.

The situation was so dire in that in April the Maharashtra state government began sending millions of litres (hundreds of thousands of gallons) of water to Marathwada’s worst-hit Latur district on a “water train.”

Small farmers have been pushed into poverty. Poor farm labourers, hired by middlemen to work on large farms, have been forced to work for little or no money. Cattle farmers forced to bring their herds close to water supplies live in lean-tos and cook over open fires.

In every village in the region there are several locked and abandoned homes. Tens of thousands of people have been forced to abandon their villages and head to slums in bigger cities to earn a living.

Drought

Drought in Palau, Oceania

Drought-stricken Palau could dry up completely this month , officials warned Monday as the Pacific island appealed for urgent aid from Japan and Taiwan, including shipments of water. The tiny country of about 18,000 people declared a state of emergency last month, the latest Pacific island nation to do so as one of the worst ever El Nino-induced droughts in the region worsens. “We’re still in the state of emergency, there’s a sense of urgency to address the crisis.”

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said last month the El Nino weather pattern – associated with a sustained period of warming in the central Pacific which can spark climate extremes – was unlikely to ease before the second half of the year. The Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia have also declared states of emergency, while Guam and the Northern Marianas are experiencing low rainfall.

Drought ravages Thai sugar cane crop

A global sugar shortage is looming and prices are soaring. The world’s top sugar cane exporters, India and Thailand, are being ravaged by a severe drought brought on by the El Nino weather phenomenon. Thailand – the world second-largest sugar cane exporter – is going to be shipping 20 to 30 percent less of the sweetener compared to last year. And the situation may even get worse next year.

Drought in Southern Philippines Causes Food Riots

Two people were killed in the southern Philippines after clashes between police and thousands of drought-hit farmers protesting over a lack of food. A parched highway in impoverished Kidapawan city, capital of Cotabato province, had been barricaded by 6,000 farmers since Wednesday to demand 15,000 sacks of rice from the government. Gunshots were fired and rocks hurled into the air during a scuffle between police and demonstrators on Friday, as the authorities tried to disperse the crowds.

“We asked for rice. Instead, they gave us bullets. The farmers are starving because they have nothing to eat. We went there looking for a solution.” 116 protesters were wounded while 89 others were missing.

The Philippines has been gripped by a strong El Nino dry spell since December which has hit food production, particularly in the conflict-wracked south which is home to the country’s poorest and where more than half of the population is reliant on agriculture. The state weather bureau had warned last year that rainfall could decrease by as much as 80 percent during the drought, which is expected to last until the middle of this year.

Drought

Drought in Swaziland

The Swaziland Government has declared a national emergency for the current drought situation, primarily caused by the cyclical weather phenomenon, El Nino.

The Prime Minister when announcing the emergency said: “At the present time, we count the loss of around 40,000 head of cattle, and have to report a serious food and water vulnerability currently experienced by approximately 300,000 of our people, which is around 25% of the population. There has been a huge negative impact on business, and agriculture, with one of our biggest employers having to reduce irrigation down to 20% of the optimum level.

The drought has also led to hydropower generation being suspended – a measure that is giving rise to load shedding – intermittent power cuts.

Snow Drought – Greenland

An unusually warm and snow-free winter in parts of Greenland has forced organizers of the Arctic Winter Games 2016 to bring truckloads of snow to the venue in the country’s capital and largest city, Nuuk. The mild winter forced adjustments to some events, which draw athletes from Canada, Russia, the United States, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Greenland.