Balgis Osman-Elasha is renowned for studying climate change effects in the Horn of Africa and seeking solutions.
She’s seen it before. The images of dry, cracked lands; dead trees; animal corpses; hungry children and lines of people waiting for food assistance are not new to her.
The current drought and resulting food crisis affecting millions across the Horn of Africa are painful reminders of the importance of her work.
But that’s not all that bothers her. Across the Atlantic, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and proposed policies to reverse the United States’ contribution to the fight against climate change dishearten her. They add insult to injury.
“This is the problem with climate change: it’s caused by the large emissions of industrialised countries, so they are more responsible for the climate change phenomenon,” said Balgis Osman-Elasha, a climate change expert with the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Ivory Coast.
“We are being impacted by something we have not contributed to,” she said.
This year its eastern region is witnessing a third year of consecutive drought that scientists link to climate change. The UN has issued a call to action for the Horn of Africa seeking to raise funds to address the unfolding humanitarian crisis that includes food shortages, human displacement, and refugees.
Osman-Elasha’s work has received global attention. A lead author of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, she was among a select few to represent the group in 2007 in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, next to Al Gore.
The following year, she was awarded the UN’s Champions of the Earth Prize. The US State Department invited her to the United States in 2008 to take part in a science diplomacy programme, where she gave lectures on climate change at several American universities.
Her achievements were the result of years of hard work and persistence. Like women studying the sciences everywhere, she was among a small group at her university.
“There were a few female students in the faculty of agriculture, even fewer in the forestry department,” she said of her days at the University of Khartoum in the early 1980s.
Entranced by nature and trees as a child, she spent weeks as a university student camping and studying the forests of Sudan. Her research took her all over the country from one village to another, where she helped to spread awareness of the importance of forests, preserving and planting trees, and conserving energy.
After years of working on forests, she joined a local government agency that provided the UN with reports on the effects of climate change in Sudan. She helped to identify the sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, such as deforestation and land degradation, and recorded the signs such as increasing drought and floods.
“Sometimes there are droughts that come in the middle of the rainy season that have an impact on agriculture,” she explained.
“The rain now comes later. It’s not the usual pattern. It can now come all suddenly and in one day you can have the whole quota of the season, so there’s a shift in the timing, a change in the pattern,” Osman-Elasha told Al Jazeera.