With the world moving towards a 2°C warmer planet, drought will intensify and worsen in several regions, crumbling communities, ecosystems and economies. The risks that drought poses to communities, ecosystems and economies are much larger and more profound than can be measured, said the latest GAR Special Report on Drought 2021 by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR).
The report points out that drought directly affected 1.5 billion people so far this century, more than any other slow-onset disaster. The report said that the coming years would see an increase in numbers because of climate change, environmental degradation and demographic shifts unless urgent action is taken to improve drought management and prevention.
Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction Mami Mizutori said that the report comes at a time when the world reflects on how it should deal with the threats and various risks to sustainable development. “The cost of drought to society and ecosystems is often substantially underestimated. It is borne disproportionately by the poor,” Mami Mizutori said.
The special representative mentioned that the report explored the current understanding of the risk, its drivers and the ways in which people, economies and ecosystems are exposed and vulnerable.
The report points out that rapid evolution of human-induced climate change was likely to aggravate the risk of drought in many regions. It said that the conditions arise from changes in atmospheric conditions. The El Niño Southern Oscillation, Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation and Pacific Decadal Oscillation are key indicators associated with the conditions.
The GAR Special Report on Drought 2021 said that understanding the mechanisms of such climate features would help in improving capabilities for a timely seasonal prediction of drought events. It also mentioned that land management and water management could mitigate drought impacts to a certain extent. However, they could also increase exposure and vulnerability as such increase future risks.
The UNDRR said that increased demand for water and extraction from natural and human-made reservoirs could increase vulnerability. It said that a combination of drought and over abstraction from reservoirs and groundwater, leads to decreasing buffers and reduced resilience to future drought.
The impacts can be direct and indirect. The report mentions that the impact could go beyond the areas of drought, linger well after the it ends and harm several sectors in addition to agriculture.
The report also said that only a few of the impacts are tangible. Direct impacts include agricultural production, energy production, public water supply, waterborne transportation, human health, tourism, natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
Drought can also lead to temporary or permanent unemployment. It can also disrupt international trade, and loss of income. They can also lead to spread of disease due to poor water and air quality, food insecurity, malnutrition, starvation and widespread famine. There are also chances of increased internal as well as cross-border migration, social unrest and even conflict in extreme cases.
They also leads to reduced plant productivity, which is not good news for the wild life, the report said. Increases in disease in wild animals and increased stress on endangered species or even extinction can be the results, the report added.
Large cities located in semi-arid to arid regions, and which rely mainly on reservoirs or groundwater for public water supply, are vulnerable to a sequence of dry years when water stocks are not sufficiently replenished. Moreover, the quality is also undermined in these regions. Most impacts are indirect. They cascade through economies and communities and continue over time, dwarfing direct losses.
TRANSFORMING DROUGHT GOVERNANCE
- Systemic innovation strategies founded on notions of complexity, ambiguity and diversity to manage present risks and adapt as new risks emerge
- A commitment to iterative analytical deliberation, monitoring, nesting of approaches, institutional variety and evaluation, where deviation from the target should not be seen as failure but rather as an opportunity to learn and adjust
- More perspectives and visions may offer a broader portfolio of opportunities and solutions for problems
In good governance and management, the report calls for:
- Investing in drought risk identification, monitoring and mapping
- Employing horizontal partnership development to share visions, which helps in risk management and reduction
- Offering social protection through resilience bonds and conditional cash transfer and temporary employment schemes, micro insurance and loans
- Ensuring social accountability through increased public information and transparency
- Aligning goals and investment for financing drought-related systemic risk reduction to promote coherence in financing
At national level, the effective governance includes:
- Policies and directives for risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation that are integrated with local development plans
- Information and incentives for government agencies to share the responsibility for sustainability across portfolios
- Re-enforcement, amplification and extension of existing regulatory measures and incentives, such as the promotion of water-saving practices, enforcement of sustainable land and water management, and environmental protection
Building on international policy momentum to bring domestic attention and resources to the reduction of climate-related disaster risks, and specifically risk-prevention measures and the creation of centres of excellence where drought-related technical resources and capacities can be pooled
In the global level, the framework should include:
- Developing international collaboration and dialogue on drivers of globally networked risks
- Developing thematic working groups including industry and civil society actors focused on feasibility, capacity and accountability
CALL TO ACTION
- Avoid growing human, ecological and financial costs by investing in risk preventative action through systemic drought management and adaptive governance.
- Take action now to better understand the causes of vulnerability that are a function of human agency, before inevitable drought hazards emerge (and intensify under climate change). Draw on the long history of research and practices within the DRR community together with knowledge enshrined in traditional and indigenous wisdom. With what we know, we must do better, and with what we learn, we must improve.
- Build enabling conditions for the transition to drought-related, systemic risk governance. These include drought resilience partnerships at the national and local levels, building on approaches such as the 10-step drought planning approach or the three-pillar approach developed through the Integrated Drought Management Programme while avoiding overly prescriptive planning that does not prioritize and allow iterative learning and innovation. Prospective drought risk management requires plans designed to be flexible with inbuilt capacity to learn to change.
- Move towards a new global mechanism to effectively address the complex systemic nature of drought across international, national and local levels. Vertical and horizontal governance and associated partnerships – based on shared values, roles and responsibilities – can then accelerate transitions towards systems based and prospective approaches to drought risk management and reduction, and mobilize financial resources directed to grow systemic drought resilience. Inherent in these initiatives are improved international dialogue and collaboration around globally networked risks and more effective partnerships among public sectors, private sectors and civil society.
- Better knowledge of the complex nature of drought shared more broadly and with enabled, nimble and adaptive governance will lead to reduced risk to people and ecosystems. Systemic action to reduce and prevent risks provides an effective pathway for reducing a much wider suite of complex and proliferating risks, including the growing and real threat of climate change.