When it comes to managing droughts, humanity is “at a crossroads” and mitigation must be done “urgently, using every tool we can, ” against this phenomenon, says a new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
“Drought In Numbers, 2022,” released on May 11 to mark Drought Day at UNCCD’s 15th Conference of Parties, calls for making a full global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions a top priority.
UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw said; “the facts and figures of this publication all point in the same direction: an upward trajectory in the duration of droughts and the severity of impacts, not only affecting human societies but also the ecological systems upon which the survival of all life depends, including that of our own species.”
- Since 2000, the number and duration of droughts has risen 20 per cent.
- From 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50 per cent of disasters and 45 per cent of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries
- Droughts represent 15 per cent of natural disasters but took the largest human toll, approximately 650,000 deaths from 1970-2019
- From 1998 to 2017, droughts caused global economic losses of roughly USD 124 billion
- In 2022, more than 2.3 billion people face water stress: almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts
Unless action is stepped up:
- By 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought .
- By 2040, an estimated one in four children will live in areas with extreme water
- By 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and an estimated 4.8-5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today. And up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050. largely due to drought in combination with other factors including water scarcity, declining crop productivity, sea-level rise, and overpopulation
WHAT IS NEEDED
UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw noted that the world should steer towards the solutions rather than continuing with destructive actions, believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure. “One of the best, most comprehensive solutions is land restoration, which addresses many of the underlying factors of degraded water cycles and the loss of soil fertility. We must build and rebuild our landscapes better, mimicking nature wherever possible and creating functional ecological systems,” said Thiaw.
Beyond restoration, he adds, is the need for a paradigm shift from ‘reactive’ and ‘crisis-based’ approaches to ‘proactive’ and ‘risk-based drought management approaches involving coordination, communication and cooperation, driven by sufficient finance and political will.
Needed as well:
- Sustainable and efficient agricultural management techniques that grow more food on less land and with less water
- Changes in relationships with food, fodder and fiber, moving toward plant-based diets, and reducing or stopping the consumption of animals
- Concerted policy and partnerships at all levels
- Development and implementation of integrated drought action plans
- Set up effective early-warning systems that work across boundaries
- Deployment of new technologies such as satellite monitoring and artificial intelligence to guide decisions with greater precision Regular monitoring and reporting to ensure continuous improvement Mobilize sustainable finance to improve drought resilience at the local level Invest in soil health
- Work together and include and mobilize farmers, local communities, businesses, consumers, investors, entrepreneurs and, above all, young people
Drought around the world (1900-2022)
- More than 10 million people died due to major drought events in the past century, causing several hundred billion USD in economic losses worldwide. And the numbers are rising
- Severe drought affects Africa more than any other continent, with more than 300 events recorded in the past 100 years, accounting for 44 per cent of the global total. More recently, sub-Saharan Africa has experienced the dramatic consequences of climate disasters becoming more frequent and intense
- In the past century, 45 major drought events occurred in Europe, affecting millions of people and resulting in more than USD 27.8 billion in economic losses. Today, an annual average of 15% of the land area and 17 per cent of the population within the European Union is affected by drought
- In the U.S., crop failures and other economic losses due to drought have totaled several hundred billion USD over the last century – USD 249 billion alone since 1980
- Over the past century, the highest total number of humans affected by drought were in Asia
Impacts on human society
• Over 1.4 billion people were affected by drought from 2000 to 2019. This makes drought the disaster affecting the second-highest number of people, after flooding. Africa suffered from drought more frequently than any other continent with 134 droughts, of which 70 occurred in East Africa
• The effect of severe droughts was estimated to have reduced India’s gross domestic product by 2-5 per cent over the 10 years 1998 to 2017
• As a result of the Australian Millennium Drought, total agricultural productivity fell by 18% from 2002 to 2010
• Greater burdens and suffering are inflicted on women and girls in emerging and developing countries in terms of education levels, nutrition, health, sanitation, and safety
• The burden of water collection – especially in drylands – falls is proportionately on women (72 per cent ) and girls (9 per cent ), who, in some cases, spend as much as 40 per cent of their calorific intake carrying water
• Droughts have deep, widespread and underestimated impacts on societies, ecosystems, and economies, with only a portion of the actual losses accounted for
• A 2017 California case study showed that an increase of about 100 drought stories over two months was associated with a reduction of 11 to 18 per cent in typical household water-use
Impacts on ecosystems
- The percentage of plants affected by drought has more than doubled in the last 40 years, with about 12 million hectares of land lost each year due to drought and desertification
- Ecosystems progressively turn into carbon sources, especially during extreme drought events, detectable on five of six continents
- One-third of global carbon dioxide emissions is offset by the carbon uptake of terrestrial ecosystems, yet their capacity to sequester carbon is highly sensitive to drought events
- 14% of wetlands critical for migratory species, as listed by Ramsar, are located in drought-prone regions
- The megadrought in Australia contributed to ‘megafires’ in 2019-2020 resulting in the most dramatic loss of habitat for threatened species in postcolonial history; about 3 billion animals were killed or displaced in the Australian wildfires
- Drought-induced peatland fires in Indonesia resulted in decreasing biodiversity,
- including both the number of individuals as well as plant species
- Photosynthesis in European ecosystems was reduced by 30 per cent during the summer drought of 2003, which resulted in an estimated net carbon release of 0.5 gigatons
- 84 per cent of terrestrial ecosystems are threatened by changing and intensifying wildfires
- During the first two decades of the 21st century, the Amazon experienced 3 widespread droughts, all of which triggered massive forest fires. Drought events are becoming increasingly common in the Amazon region due to land-use and climate change, which are interlinked.
- If Amazonian deforestation continues unabated, 16% of the region’s remaining forests will likely burn by 2050
- Climate change is expected to increase the risk of droughts in many vulnerable regions of the world, particularly those with rapid population growth, vulnerable populations and challenges with food security
- Within the next few decades, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure mainly due to climate change alone – 23 primarily due to population growth and 38 mostly due to the interaction between climate change and population growth
- If global warming reaches 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 as some predict, drought losses could be five times higher than they are today, with the largest increase in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic regions of Europe
- In Angola, more than 40% of livestock, a significant livelihood source accounting for 31.4% of the agricultural GDP, is currently exposed to droughts and expected to rise to 70% under projected climate conditions
- In the E.U. and U.K., annual losses from drought are currently estimated to be around EUR 9 billion and projected to rise to more than EUR 65 billion without meaningful climate action