Worrying Drought Trends Call for Urgent Action

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The latest report released by the UNCCD – United Nations Conventions to Combat Desertification – ‘Drought in Numbers, 2022’ has thrown up some startling numbers concerning the increasing severity and incidence of droughts worldwide. Here are just a few of those figures.

Billions of people are struggling to cope

Over the last 20 years, droughts across the globe have increased by 29 percent, costing the global economy $124 billion. And although they represent just 15 percent of natural disasters, they caused the greatest number of deaths – approximately 650,000 during the preceding 50 years. In 2022, more than 2.3 billion people are struggling to meet the most basic standard of living due to water shortages, and almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged drought.

One of the territories most at risk is East Africa – parts of Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya are living through the hottest temperatures and the driest conditions since records began.

Those most at risk are the small family farming communities, subsistence farmers who are struggling to grow localised crops, and care for livestock who are dying in their droves.

With no action, the future looks bleak

The UNCCD report continues to highlight the growing threat is no action is taken. It estimates that by 2030, 700 million people will be at risk of losing their homes because of a drought. Even more frightening, as water becomes scarcer and scarcer, droughts will affect over three-quarters of the world’s population.

Water is truly the elixir of life. Without water, everything just grinds to a halt. Crops can’t be irrigated, cattle starve. No one can wash or clean, so infections and diseases become rampant. Food stocks dwindle and famines set in. The knock-on effect on local economies is devastating.

There are things that can be done!

Individual localized water projects may feel like a (literal) drop in the ocean when it comes to resolving drought issues on a global scale – but they are an essential element of the overall drive and strategy to combatting the growing drought risk.

Their power comes in working with small local communities but on a much wider community scale, teaching and educating people about sustainable and efficient agricultural management techniques that help these communities optimize the land available using less water.

The more that these communities are encouraged to learn and help themselves, the more they are able to effectively predict and prepare for future drought situations as much in advance as possible, without needing to resort to emergency states.

What causes a drought?

Drought is caused by more than simply too hot weather and lack of rain. Human interference and mismanagement of the landscape can set off a train of events that cause water to run off. Deforestation for example can reduce the amount of water stored in the soil, so any rain just washes away as surface run-off, leaving the ground vulnerable to erosion and drought. Equally, the overuse of agricultural land demands increased irrigation from local natural sources. This excessive demand can drain lakes, rivers, and groundwater, with no thought given to their replenishment.

And inevitably, climate change is having an effect. With longer, drier summers, many areas are having to adapt to survive with less water – a process that is taking longer than is necessary.

A global action plan is required to tackle what is obviously a perfect storm of causes and effects of droughts on communities across developed and developing nations. This includes a universal education program on better ways to utilise water, partnerships in information and resource sharing, individual drought policies, and a benchmarked plan.