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Review: A recent UNCCD report says 75% of world population will be affected by droughts by 2050

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Recently, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) released the Drought in Numbers, 2022 report, which emphasizes on the need to make a global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions a top priority. The report notes that 75% of the world population will be affected by droughts by 2050. 

Globally, the impact of climate change is being felt by every country. The IPCC report published in 2021 found that climate change is intensifying the water cycle, it brings in more intense rainfall and is also associated with flooding and more intense drought in many regions. Besides, it is affecting rainfall patterns, increasing sea levels, amplifying the melting of glaciers and ice sheets, and causing extreme weather events more frequently. It also noted that the frequency of droughts in parts of Asia has increased over the years. 

Recently, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) released the Drought in Numbers, 2022 report, on the Drought Day at UNCCD’s 15th Conference of Parties held in Côte d’Ivoire. The report emphasizes on the need to make a global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions a top priority. Droughts have significant impacts on societies, ecosystems, and economies. 

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Droughts account for 60% of deaths due to extreme events

According to the report, more than a crore people lost their lives due to major drought events since 1900 causing several hundred billion USD in economic losses worldwide. Since 2000, the number and duration of droughts have risen by 29%. Though droughts accounted only for 15% of the disasters in the period from 1970 to 2019, droughts caused approximately 6.5 lakh deaths globally. Mortality related to droughts is around 60% of the total deaths caused by extreme weather events. Furthermore, it has been estimated that over 1.4 billion people were affected by drought in the period from 2000 to 2019. Between 2020 and 2022, a total of 23 countries have faced drought emergencies including India’s neighbouring countries such as Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Other countries include Angola, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Lesotho, Mali, Mauritania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, US, and Zambia.

The report also noted that Africa is the most affected continent by severe droughts, with more than 300 events recorded in the past 100 years, constituting 44% of the global total. The intensity and frequency of climate disasters have increased in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years. However, Asia accounted for the highest total number of humans affected by drought since 1900.

Droughts have social, economic, and ecological consequences

Increased indebtedness, migration, lower quality of life, and unemployment are some of the consequences of droughts. The impact on women and children is disproportionately higher. Women in particular have to deal with the burden of water collection for which they end up spending about 40% of their calorific intake on carrying water, leading to anaemia and other health issues.  

In addition to the impact on human lives, droughts come with heavy economic costs. Droughts are estimated to have caused global economic losses of roughly USD 124 billion from 1998 to 2017. In Europe alone, more than USD 27.8 billion in economic losses were recorded in the past century whereas, in the US, crop failures and other economic losses due to drought have totalled several hundred billion USD over the last century. Since 1980, the loss reported was USD 249 billion. In India, severe droughts have been estimated to have reduced India’s GDP by 2 to 5%. 

With respect to agriculture productivity, droughts cause low yields posing challenges to food security. The total agricultural productivity fell by 18% in the period from 2002 to 2010 following the Australian Millennium Drought. In Europe, an annual average of 15% of the land area and 17% of the population within the European Union is affected by drought. A 2021 report by FAO on “The impact of disasters and crises on agriculture and food security” noted that 82% of all damage and loss caused by drought was absorbed by agriculture in low- and lower-middle-income countries between 2008 and 2018. 

Significant impact on ecosystems has also been highlighted in the recent UNCCD report. About 12 million hectares of land are lost to drought and desertification. 14% of wetlands which are critical for migratory species, as listed by Ramsar, are in drought-prone regions. The Australian megadrought contributed to ‘megafires’ in 2019-2020 in which 3 billion animals were killed or displaced. This has been considered the most dramatic loss in post-colonial history. Droughts are also causing wildfires. 84% of terrestrial ecosystems are threatened by changing and intensifying wildfires. Decreasing biodiversity, both in the number of individuals and plant species has been observed in Indonesia due to peatlands fires. In Amazon, drought events are becoming increasingly common, and if this is left to continue, 16% of the region’s remaining forests will likely burn by 2050.

India is among countries that are highly vulnerable to droughts

The UNCCD report has mapped the vulnerability of all areas across regions. The report observes that India’s vulnerability is higher compared to most parts of the world. Parts of South India- Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and the Hindu-Kush Himalayan region are more vulnerable compared to the rest of the country.  

Source: UNCCD

75% of the world population will be affected by droughts by 2050

In the coming years, it is only expected that climate change will further increase the risk of droughts in many vulnerable regions of the world, especially those parts which have rapid population growth. The report noted that within the next few decades, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure. Without proper action, the annual loss in Europe alone is projected to rise to more than EUR 65 billion. By 2050, it is estimated that droughts may affect over three-fourths of the world’s population. 

The report has called for a paradigm shift from a ‘reactive’ approach to a ‘proactive’ and ‘risk-based’ drought management approach. It has also highlighted success stories from different parts of the world to recommend measures such as sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration policies, initiatives like natural forest regeneration, rotation forestry, regenerative agriculture, energy farming, etc. Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge with Intelligence (ITIKI), a drought early warning system that integrates Indigenous knowledge and drought forecasting to help small-scale farmers make more informed decisions in Mozambique and Kenya is highlighted in the report. 

Ministry of Agriculture monitors droughts in India

In India, the Ministry of Agriculture is the nodal Ministry for monitoring and managing drought conditions. Droughts are classified into three.

  • Meteorological droughts which are based on rainfall deficiency.
  • Hydrological droughts are defined as deficiencies in surface and sub-surface water supplies leading to a lack of water for normal and specific needs.
  • Agricultural drought is identified by 4 consecutive weeks of meteorological drought. 

Factly had earlier written in detail about how drought is declared in India.

Between 1877 & 2009, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) declared 27 years as drought years. Since 2009, IMD discontinued the declaration of drought years. In these 27 years, the percentage of areas affected by droughts ranged from 21% to 69%. The following table has detailed information. 

An average of 109 districts were affected by droughts annually

An average of 109 districts were affected by droughts between 2005 and 2017, according to Envistats 2022 data, compiled from the Ministry of Agriculture. Most districts were affected in 2009 (338) followed by 2015 (270). In 10 out the 13 years, districts from Andhra Pradesh were affected by drought. This is the highest among all states. Districts in Rajasthan and Karnataka were affected in 9 years and 8 years respectively.  

Proactive and reactive measures for drought management

For drought management, India has rolled out various measures over the years. Drought Prone Area Development Programme and Desert Development Programme are aimed at addressing the issues specific to the drought-prone areas in the country. 971 blocks of 183 districts across 16 states have been declared as drought-prone under Drought Prone Area Programme (DPAP), whereas 234 blocks of 40 districts in 7 States are identified under Desert Development Programme (DDP), as per a parliament response in 2021. 

Under MGNREGA, an additional fifty days of wage employment is also provided over and above the 100 days in notified drought-affected areas. The National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) and State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) constituted under the 2005 Disaster Management Act also provide financial relief to the affected people. In the years 2018-19, 2019-20, and 2020-21, the centre approved Rs. 9,211 crores, Rs. 265.6 crores and Rs. 117.3 crores for drought relief (predominantly in Kharif season) under NDRF. 

Additionally, National Agricultural Insurance Scheme (NAIS) and Weather Based Crop Insurance Scheme also support farmers affected by droughts. 

Featured Image: Drought in Numbers, 2022 report

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