a global crisis hitting the poorest

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At least 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought this century, and the economic cost has been estimated at $ 124 billion. [about R1,76 trillion].

The actual cost is likely to be several times that much, however, as the estimates do not include much of the effect of droughts in developing countries.

According to the “Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Special Report on Drought 2021,” most of the world will live with water stress over the next few years. Demand will exceed supply during certain periods, and there will be land degradation and yield reductions of major crops.

The risks that drought poses to communities, ecosystems and economies are far greater and deeper than can be measured. Additionally, climate change projections suggest that many regions will experience more frequent and severe droughts.

This makes key issues, such as the ability of society to cope with drought and the availability of tools to reduce the cost of drought, all the more urgent.

System failure
Drought is not aridity or water scarcity; it is a failure of the system that governs the hydrological balance. This can include reduced precipitation over a period of time, inadequate timing or ineffective precipitation and / or a negative water balance due to increased atmospheric water demand as a result of high temperatures or strong winds.

Human actions interact with drought risks to exacerbate or limit the degree of risk and severity of effects. While land and water management can mitigate the effects of drought to some extent, it can also increase exposure and vulnerability and hence future risks.

Growing demand for water and extraction from natural and man-made reservoirs can further increase vulnerability; however, some forms of conservative land use practices can reduce soil moisture loss.

The onset of drought is usually slow, so drought is difficult to measure until a certain threshold is reached. In addition, the end can be shifted. Nonetheless, defining discrete drought events is important for quantifying loss and damage from extreme events and for policy implementation.

Climate change has already resulted in more intense and longer droughts in some areas
of the world, especially Southern Europe and West Africa. Projections indicate that droughts
will be more common and more severe over large parts of the world, especially in most countries in Africa, Central Asia, southern Australia, Mexico and the United States.

The extent and severity of these droughts will largely depend on the extent of the rise in temperatures. (Other areas will become wetter with less frequent, less intense, or shorter weather droughts.)

When poorly managed, drought is one of the causes of desertification and land degradation, increasing the fragility of ecosystems and social instability, especially in rural communities.

Drought directly affects agricultural production, public water supply, energy production, water transport, tourism, human health, biodiversity and natural ecosystems.

If these effects are sufficiently widespread in the breadbasket of the world, drought can, and has, led to increased food prices globally and a series of important indirect cascading effects. These move rapidly through the economic system, affecting areas far from the place of origin of the drought and may persist long after the drought has ended.

Thus, drought can lead to temporary or permanent unemployment, business interruption, disruption of international trade, loss of income, diseases due to poor water quality, food insecurity, malnutrition, famine and widespread famine.

In turn, this can trigger internal and cross-border migration, social unrest and conflict in extreme cases.

Overall cost estimates provide only partial accounts and are significant underestimates; the case studies suggest multiplier effects several times greater than these costs.

Estimates of some of the direct costs include annual drought losses of around US $ 6.4 billion [R91 billion] per year in the United States, and some 9 billion euros [R127,9 billion] per year in the EU. The effect of severe droughts on India’s GDP is estimated to be between 2% and 5%.

There is a manifestly disproportionate vulnerability of poor and marginalized populations in many case studies, particularly in Africa, where the cost of drought is measured in terms of lives, livelihoods and impoverishment.

In the African case studies presented in the report, a hierarchy of vulnerability is clear: pastoralists, dryland farmers, irrigated farmers and then the broader elements of the community and economy. In other words, large numbers of people in fragile communities depend on highly drought-sensitive activities such as agriculture and livestock management, which are further exacerbated by gender inequalities.

Adaptation to drought
Local adaptations to drought are widely reported; they are essentially examples of bottom-up adaptation and are sometimes supported by government programs.

Examples include adapting crop varieties, combining businesses, planting dates, planting densities, and irrigation strategies.

In Africa, adaptation strategies based on traditional knowledge (eg water harvesting in West Africa) are gaining in importance. But many of these local adaptations are not sufficiently linked to knowledge of the likelihood or current state of drought.

While many case studies emphasize the need to empower farmers and communities, as well as preparedness linked to adequate early warning and monitoring, success depends on the effectiveness of political support. . These can include drought funds, rebates, tax measures, etc.

The use of risk transfer and related financial instruments is rare due to a lack of knowledge or research on products at financial risk, insufficient choice among expensive financial products and a small pool of suppliers and therefore limited competition.

Disconnections from drought response policies are common among governments. Although good examples exist in some parts of the world, many mechanisms and approaches have been overwhelmed by the duration and complexity of severe droughts, and measures are currently only in a reactive phase.

Almost all of the case studies presented in the report identify the need for national drought policies to support drought risk reduction and avoid dominant reactive models; in other words, move from managing the effects of drought to getting ahead of the game to tackle the underlying risk factors and prevent and manage the risk of drought.

A new answer
The report mentions options to explore and ways to manage this complex and damaging risk. The drought analysis and the experiences explored in the case studies show that there are related concerns requiring a transformation of drought risk management approaches.

Successful integrated management requires a change in governance from response and rescue to risk reduction and resilience, in part based on a better understanding of the climate mechanisms controlling the onset and end of drought periods and the onset of drought. level of vulnerability of exposed communities, industries and ecosystems.

The report argues for a more systemic approach to drought risk based on enhanced observation and learning where intervention is feasible and effective, all within the framework of adaptive management policies, plans and actions. and the risk of drought.

This requires new forms of governance that are designed for the systemic nature of risk and can respond to the extraordinary complexity of the drought experience.

The views expressed in our weekly opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Farmer’s Weekly.

This article is an edited excerpt from the “Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Special report on drought 2021 ‘by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

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