Forecasting famine

Scientists trying to accurately forecast droughts in Zimbabwe have found that the country's maize production is more dependent on El Nino -- a warm water current that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and causes climate variability in the tropics and the sub-tropics -- than it is on rainfall (Nature, Vol 370, No 6486).

According to researchers Mark Cane of the New York-based Lamont-Doherty Observatory at Columbia University and Gordon Eshel and R W Buckland of the Harare-based South Afican Development Community (SADC), long-term forecasts of El Nino could help the SADC Regional Early Warning System. Inputs could provide indications of probable average crop yields, allowing the agricultural community to anticipate and react early to minimise costs and damages.