Original Research

Monitoring droughts in Eswatini: A spatiotemporal variability analysis using the Standard Precipitation Index

Daniel H. Mlenga, Andries J. Jordaan, Brian Mandebvu
Jàmbá: Journal of Disaster Risk Studies | Vol 11, No 1 | a725 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/jamba.v11i1.725 | © 2019 Daniel H. Mlenga, Andries J. Jordaan, Brian Mandebvu | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 11 July 2018 | Published: 03 October 2019

About the author(s)

Daniel H. Mlenga, Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Andries J. Jordaan, Disaster Management Training and Education Centre for Africa, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa
Brian Mandebvu, Institute of Development Studies, National University of Science and Technology, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe


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Abstract

The spatiotemporal analysis of drought is of great importance to Eswatini as the country has been facing recurring droughts with negative impacts on agriculture, environment and economy. In 2016, the country experienced the most severe drought in over 35 years resulting in food shortages, drying up of rivers as well as livestock deaths. The frequent occurrence of extreme drought events makes the use of drought indices essential for drought monitoring, early warning and planning. The aim of this study was therefore to assess the applicability of the Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) for near real-time and retrospective drought monitoring in Eswatini. The 3-, 6- and 12-month SPI were computed to analyse severity and onset of meteorological drought between 1986 and 2017. The results indicated that the climate of Eswatini exhibits geospatial and temporal variability. Droughts intensified in terms of frequency, severity and geospatial coverage, with the worst drought years being 1985–1986, 2005–2006 and 2015–2016 agricultural seasons. Moderate droughts were the most prevalent, while the frequency of severe and very severe droughts was low. Most parts of the country were vulnerable to mild and moderate agricultural droughts. Spatial analysis showed that the most severe and extreme droughts were mostly experienced in the Lowveld and Middleveld agro-ecological zones. The 3-, 6- and 12-month SPI computations conducted in January detected the onset of early season drought, thereby affirming the applicability of the index for monitoring near real-time and retrospective droughts in Eswatini. Drought monitoring using SPI provides information for early warning, particularly in drought-prone areas, by depicting a drought before the effects have begun to be felt.

Keywords

standard precipitation index; drought; rainfall; spatial and temporal variability; Eswatini; drought monitoring

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