GENEVA – The United Nations warns that accelerating climate change is causing a dramatic increase in global drought disasters, threatening agricultural production, the world’s secure water supply and other vital aspects of human development. The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has a “Special report on drought 2021.”
UN researchers say drought has affected more people around the world over the past four decades than any other natural disaster. The UN report warns that the impact of the climate-driven drought on the lives and livelihoods of people across the planet will worsen in the coming years.
UN Special Representative Mami Mizutori for disaster risk reduction says drought has hit 1.5 billion people directly so far this century. She says most of the world will live with water stress for the next few years as droughts increase.
She says drought is a major factor in soil degradation and is responsible for declining yields of large crops. She adds that fluctuating rainfall patterns and volatility pose a risk to the 70 percent of global agriculture that depends on rainfall.
“A warming planet threatens to increase the number of people without access to safe water and sanitation, thus seriously increasing the spread of disease, the risk of displacement and the possibility of conflict over scarce water resources,” Mizutori said.
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Although droughts have always been part of the human experience, the damage and costs associated with them are seriously underestimated. The report estimates the global economic cost of drought from 1998 to 2017 at least $ 124 billion.
The World Health Organization considers drought to be the greatest danger to livestock and crops in almost every part of the world. It says that water scarcity affects 40 percent of the world’s population. WHO projects to 700 million people is at risk of being displaced by 2030 due to drought.
Leading co-author of the report, Roger Pulwarty, agrees that the information in the report is grim, but that there is no apocalyptic picture.
“I do not think there is actually an issue regarding the collapse of civilizations … We do not really see an increase in the frequency of drought,” Pulwarty said. “But we see that where it occurs in the different regions in which they exist, an increase in intensification when it occurs and the rapid onset of drought.”
Over the millennia, Pulwarty has noted that humans have found ways to adapt to the risks of drought and other natural disasters. He says lessons learned from more than 20 cases around the world – including the Horn of Africa and the Euphrates and Tigris River systems in West Asia – were included in the report.
However, he says tried and tested drought management measures taken in the past need to be adapted to meet the challenges of the current changing nature of drought risk.