“Everything is scorched by the burning sun”: missionary perspectives and experiences of 19th- and early 20th-century droughts in semi-arid central Namibia

Grab, Stefan; Zumthurm, Tizian

Limited research has focussed on historical droughts during the pre-instrumental weather-recording period in semi-arid to arid human-inhabited environments. Here we describe the unique nature of droughts over semi-arid central Namibia (southern Africa) between 1850 and 1920. More particularly, our intention is to establish temporal shifts in influence and impact that historical droughts had on society and the environment during this period. This is achieved through scrutinizing documentary records sourced from a variety of archives and libraries. The primary source of information comes from missionary diaries, letters, and reports. These missionaries were based at a variety of stations across the central Namibian region and thus collectively provide insight into subregional (or site-specific) differences in hydrometeorological conditions and drought impacts and responses. The earliest instrumental rainfall records (1891–1913) from several missionary stations or settlements are used to quantify hydrometeorological conditions and compare them with documentary sources. The work demonstrates strong subregional contrasts in drought conditions during some given drought events and the dire implications of failed rain seasons, the consequences of which lasted for many months to several years. The paper argues that human experience and associated reporting of drought events depends strongly on social, environmental, spatial, and societal developmental situations and perspectives. To this end, the reported experiences, impacts, and responses to drought over this 70-year period portray both common and changeable attributes through time.

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Grab, Stefan / Zumthurm, Tizian: “Everything is scorched by the burning sun”: missionary perspectives and experiences of 19th- and early 20th-century droughts in semi-arid central Namibia. 2020. Copernicus Publications.

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