Drought, a complex and slowly encroaching natural hazard with significant and pervasive socio-economic and environmental impacts, is known to cause more deaths and displace more people than any other natural disaster.
By 2025, 1.8 billion people will experience absolute water scarcity, and 2/3 of the world will be living under water-stressed conditions (1)
Land and Drought
By 2050, the demand for water is expected to increase by 50 percent. As populations increase, especially in dryland areas, more and more people are becoming dependent on fresh water supplies in land that are becoming degraded. Water scarcity is one of the greatest challenges of the twenty-first century. The Global Risks report published by World Economic Form ranks ‘water crisis’ the top risk in the coming decade and it has a place in the Sustainable Development Goals where a specific goal has been dedicated to water.
Drought and water scarcity are considered to be the most far-reaching of all natural disasters, causing short and long-term economic and ecological losses as well as significant secondary and tertiary impacts. To mitigate these impacts, drought preparedness that responds to human needs, while preserving environmental quality and ecosystems, requires involvement of all stakeholders including water users and water providers to achieve solutions for drought. Action on mitigating the effects of drought should be implemented considering comprehensive drought early warning and monitoring systems, vulnerability and risk assessment, upstream-downstream water uses, the link between water and land use; livelihood diversification strategies for drought affected people, etc. For example, addressing land degradation upstream improves access to water on site and downstream.
Restoring land and extensive water harvesting raises ground water levels and increases crop yields and the fauna of the region changes (Example: recent evidences from Ethiopia and Niger). To tackle drought in a more sustainable way, a strengthened link between land and water conservation measures is a prerequisite. The health of land is critical in the search for sustainable solutions to water resource provision and management. Countries should develop national drought policies based on the principles of risk reduction should consider strengthening monitoring and early warning systems, drought vulnerability assessment and risk mitigation measures. It is essential for countries to be proactive (rather than reactive); be coordinated at regional level (in addition to the country level actions); holistic and multi-sectoral (rather than silos) and to treat drought as a ‘constant risk’ (rather than a ‘crisis’).
The UNCCD supports countries by advocating for three important pillars.
- Early Warning Systems: Declaring a drought too late can have a devastating impact on lives and livelihoods. Yet when you declare a drought it can often be very subjective and highly political. Early Warning System (EWS) would guide affected countries by providing timely information that they can use to reduce risks and to better prepare for an effective response.
- Vulnerability and risk assessment: No amount of early warning will work without action to protect the most vulnerable. Some people and some systems are more vulnerable to drought as a result of social, economic, and environmental factors. It is important to combine better forecasts with detailed knowledge on how landscapes and societies respond to a lack of rain, and turn that knowledge into early intervention.
- Drought risk mitigation measures: Proactive drought risk management could save lives and the livelihoods of millions of people. For example, the development of sustainable irrigation schemes for crops and livestock or water harvesting schemes could boost the recycling and reuse of water, explore the cultivation of more drought tolerant crops, expand crop insurance schemes and establish of alternative livelihoods that can provide income in drought-prone areas.
1UN Water (2014)