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Drought is considered by many to be the most complex but least understood of all natural hazards, affecting more people than any other hazard (G.Hagman 1984). However, there remains much confusion within the scientific and policy communities about its characteristics. It is precisely this confusion that explains, to some extent, the lack of progress in drought preparedness in most parts of the world. Drought is a slow-onset, creeping natural hazard that is a normal part of climate for virtually all regions of the world; it results in serious economic, social, and environmental impacts. Drought onset and end are often difficult to determine, as is its severity. The impacts of drought are largely non-structural and spread over a larger geographical area than damage from other natural hazards. The non-structural characteristic of drought impacts has certainly hindered the development of accurate, reliable, and timely estimates of severity and, ultimately, the formulation of drought preparedness plans by most governments. The impacts of drought, like those of other hazards, can be reduced through mitigation and preparedness. Drought preparedness planning should be considered an essential component of integrated water resources management. Increasing society’s capacity to cope more effectively with the extremes of climate and water resources variability (i.e., floods and droughts) is a critical aspect of integrated water resources management. Drought preparedness planning will also provide substantial benefit in preparing for potential changes in climate. Historically, more emphasis has been given to flood management than drought management. With increasing pressure on water and other natural resources because of increasing and shifting populations (i.e., regional and rural to urban), it is imperative for all nations to improve their capacity to manage water supplies during water-short years. Drought risk is a product of a region’s exposure to the natural hazard and its vulnerability to extended periods of water shortage(D.A.Wilhite 2000).
If nations and regions are to make progress in reducing the serious consequences of drought, they must improve their understanding of the hazard and the factors that influence vulnerability. It is critical for drought-prone regions to better understand their drought climatology (i.e., the probability of drought at different levels of intensity and duration) and establish comprehensive and integrated drought information system that incorporates climate, soil, and water supply factors such as precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, snowpack, reservoir and lake levels, groundwater levels, and streamflow. All drought-prone nations should develop national drought policies and preparedness plans that place emphasis on risk management rather than following the traditional approach of crisis management, where the emphasis is on reactive, emergency response measures. Crisis management decreases self-reliance and increases dependence on government and donors.
Droughts can be classified into four major categories:
The impacts of a drought can be economic, environmental or social. Drought produces a complex web of impacts that spans many sectors of the economy and reaches well beyond the area experiencing physical drought. This complexity exists because water is integral to society’ ability to produce goods s and provide services. Impacts are commonly referred to as direct and indirect. Direct impacts include reduced crop, rangeland, and forest productivity, increased fire hazard, reduced water levels, increased livestock and wildlife mortality rates, and damage to wildlife and fish habitat. The consequences of these direct impacts illustrate indirect impacts. For example, a reduction in the crop, rangeland, and forest productivity may result in reduced income for farmers and agribusiness, increased prices for food and timber, unemployment, reduced tax revenues because of reduced expenditures, foreclosures on bank loans to farmers and businesses, migration, and disaster relief programs.
Economic impacts Many economic impacts occur in agriculture and related sectors, including forestry and fisheries, because of the reliance of these sectors on surface and subsurface water supplies. In addition to obvious losses in yields in crop and livestock production, drought is associated with increases in insect infestations, plant disease, and wind erosion. Droughts also bring increased problems with insects and diseases to forests and reduce growth. The incidence of forest and range fires increases substantially during extended droughts, which in turn places both human and wildlife populations at higher levels of risk.
Environmental losses are the result of damages to plant and animal species, wildlife habitat, and air and water quality; forest and range fires; degradation of landscape quality; loss of biodiversity; and soil erosion. Some of the effects are short-term and conditions quickly return to normal following the end of the drought. Other environmental effects linger for some time or may even become permanent. Wildlife habitat, for example, may be degraded through the loss of wetlands, lakes, and vegetation. However, many species will eventually recover from this temporary aberration. The degradation of landscape quality, including increased soil erosion, may lead to a more permanent loss of biological productivity in the landscape. Although environmental losses are difficult to quantify, growing public awareness and concern for environmental quality has forced public officials to focus greater attention and resources on these effects.
Social impacts involve public safety, health, conflicts between water users, reduced quality of life, and inequities in the distribution of impacts and disaster relief. Many of the impacts identified as economic and environmental have social components as well. Population migration is a significant problem in many countries, often stimulated by a greater supply of food and water elsewhere. Migration is usually to urban areas within the stressed area, or to regions outside the drought area. Migration may even be to adjacent countries. When the drought has abated, the migrants seldom return home, depriving rural areas of valuable human resources. The drought migrants place increasing pressure on the social infrastructure of the urban areas, leading to increased poverty and social unrest.
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