Drought is a hidden worldwide disaster that, according to the UN, risks becoming “the next pandemic” if countries do not take immediate action on water and land management as well as address the climate emergency.
Drought has impacted at least 1.5 billion people this century, with an estimated economic loss of $124 billion (£89 billion) over the same time period. Because such estimates do not account for most of the damage in underdeveloped nations, the true cost is likely to be many times higher.
Many people think of drought as hitting arid regions in Africa, but that is not the reality, according to Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary-Special General’s Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction. Drought is currently ubiquitous, and by the end of the century, all but a few countries will have experienced it in some way.
The developed world has not been spared. Drought has hit the United States, Australia, and southern Europe in recent years. Drought costs the US more than $6 billion in direct costs each year, and the EU roughly €9 billion (£7.7 billion), but these figures are likely to be grossly underestimated.
According to the report, population increase is exposing more people in many locations to the effects of drought. Drought affects more than just agriculture, according to Roger Pulwarty, a senior scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and one of the report’s co-authors.
Drought is exacerbated by changing rainfall patterns as a result of climate change, but the research also points to inefficient water usage, land degradation due to intensive agriculture, and bad farming methods as contributing factors. Deforestation, overuse of fertilisers and pesticides, overgrazing, and excessive water extraction for agriculture are all important issues.
Mizutori urged governments to reform and regulate how water is harvested, stored, and used, as well as how land is managed, in order to help prevent drought. She noted that better weather forecasting techniques were now available and that early warning systems could help individuals in peril.
Working with local people was critical, she added because local and indigenous knowledge helped inform where and how to conserve water, as well as how to foresee the effects of dry periods.
The research, titled Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction: Special Report on Drought 2021, was released on Thursday and will be used to inform discussions at the UN’s Cop26 climate conference, which will be held in Glasgow in November.