Equilibrium & Sustainability

Droughts increase 29 percent in a generation, only getting worse: UN


The world has hit a “crossroads” when it comes to managing droughts — which have increased 29 percent in a generation and are only getting worse, according to the United Nations.

With the duration and number of droughts rising and severe weather increasingly responsible for disasters in developing countries, U.N. officials called for a global commitment to drought preparedness in a report released on Wednesday.

The report, “Drought in Numbers 2022,” was published to mark Drought Day at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification’s 15th Conference of Parties, which is being held in Côte d’Ivoire through next week. 

“We are at a crossroads,” Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, said in a statement. 

“We need to steer toward the solutions rather than continuing with destructive actions, believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure,” he added.

Among the key findings of the report was a 29 percent rise in the number and duration of droughts since 2000.

In addition, from 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for half of world disasters and 45 percent of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries.

The authors also found that droughts represent 15 percent of natural disasters but take the greatest human toll — causing 650,000 deaths from 1970 to 2019.

From 1998 to 2017, meanwhile, droughts caused global economic losses equivalent to about $124 billion.

Today, more than 2.3 billion people are confronting water stress and nearly 160 million children are exposed to severe, long-term drought conditions, according to the report.

Without an improvement in global action on this issue, the authors estimated that by 2030, some 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought, while 1 in 4 children will live in areas with extreme water shortages by 2040.

By 2050, droughts could impact more than three-quarters of the world’s population, with an estimated 4.8 billion to 5.7 billion people inhabiting areas that are water-scarce for at least one month annually — up from 3.6 billion today, according to the U.N.

At the same point, up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate due to a combination of drought, water scarcity, failing crops, sea-level rise and overpopulation, the report found.

In the U.S., crop failures and economic losses associated with drought reached several hundred billion dollars over the past century — and $249 billion alone since 1980, according to the report.

Thiaw, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification executive secretary, identified several solutions to this ongoing global crisis, with a particular emphasis on land restoration. Building landscapes capable of “mimicking nature” and that contain “functional ecological systems” is critical to this effort, he explained.

The report provides evidence that such land restoration policies are effective, noting that in Niger, farmers have reduced drought risks by creating new agroforestry systems on 5 million hectares (12 million acres) of land over 20 years — with average costs falling below $20 per hectare ($8 per acre).

In addition to advocating for land restoration, Thiaw also stressed that a paradigm shift from “reactive” and “crisis-based” governance to “proactive” and “risk-based” drought management will be crucial. Such an approach, he added, will require cooperation and must be fueled by sufficient funds and political will.

Other solutions supported in the report include reducing the consumption of animals, the establishment of effective early warning systems across boundaries, deployment of more precise technologies, mobilization of sustainable finance and inclusion of entrepreneurs, local communities and young people in these processes.

“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,” Thiaw said.

Such impacts, he added, are “not only affecting human societies but also the ecological systems upon which the survival of all life depends, including that of our own species.”

Tags Drought United Nations
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