New report: World “at a crossroads” in managing drought

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By PATRICK MAYOYO

Humanity is “at a crossroads” when it comes to managing drought and accelerating mitigation must be done “urgently, using every tool we can,” says a new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

The report ”Drought In Numbers, 2022” released to mark Drought Day at UNCCD’s 15th Conference of Parties (COP15, 9-20 May in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire) – calls for making a full global commitment to drought preparedness and resilience in all global regions a top priority.

The report, an authoritative compendium of drought-related information and data, helps inform negotiations of one of several decisions by UNCCD’s 196 member states, to be issued 20 May at the conclusion of COP15.

“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, not only affecting human societies but also the ecological systems upon which the survival of all life depends, including that of our own species.” says Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.

The report creates a compelling call to action. For example it says since 2000, the number and duration of droughts has risen 29 percent, from 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50 percent of disasters and 45 percent of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries.

It adds that droughts represent 15 percent of natural disasters but took the largest human toll, approximately 650,000 deaths from 1970-2019 adding that from from 1998 to 2017, droughts caused global economic losses of roughly USD 124 billion and in 2022, more than 2.3 billion people face water stress; almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts.

“We are at a crossroads,” says Thiaw. “We need to steer toward the solutions rather than continuing with destructive actions, believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure.”

The report notes that unless action is stepped up, by 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought adding by 2040, an estimated one in four children will live in areas with extreme water shortages.

By 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and an estimated 4.8-5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today.

And up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050, largely due to drought in combination with other factors including water scarcity, declining crop productivity, sea-level rise, and overpopulation,” the report warns.

Mr Thiaw says one of the best, most comprehensive solutions to drought threat is land restoration, which he says addresses many of the underlying factors of degraded water cycles and the loss of soil fertility.

“We must build and rebuild our landscapes better, mimicking nature wherever possible and creating functional ecological systems,” he added.

Beyond restoration, Mr Thiaw  adds, is the need for a paradigm shift from ‘reactive’ and ‘crisis-based’ approaches to ‘proactive’ and ‘risk-based’ drought management approaches involving coordination, communication and cooperation, driven by sufficient finance and political will.

The report recommends the following measures: sustainable and efficient agricultural management techniques that grow more food on less land and with less water, changes in our relationships with food, fodder and fiber, moving toward plant-based diets, and reducing or stopping the consumption of animals and concerted policy and partnerships at all levels

It also recommends development and implementation of integrated drought action plans, setting up of effective early-warning systems that work across boundaries, deployment of new technologies such as satellite monitoring and artificial intelligence to guide decisions with greater precision and regular monitoring and reporting to ensure continuous improvement.

Others measures include mobilizing sustainable finance to improve drought resilience at the local level, investing in soil health and working together and include and mobilize farmers, local communities, businesses, consumers, investors, entrepreneurs and, above all, young people.

The new UNCCD report notes that 128 countries have expressed willingness to achieve or exceed Land Degradation Neutrality. And nearly 70 countries participated in the UNCCD’s global drought initiative, which aims to shift from reactive approaches to drought to a proactive and risk-reducing approach.

Mr Thiaw underlined the importance of promoting public awareness about desertification and drought, and letting people know the problems can be effectively tackled “through ingenuity, commitment and solidarity.”

“We all must live up to our responsibility to ensure the health of present and future generations, wholeheartedly and without delay,” he emphasized.

The COP15 decision on drought is expected to touch on five interrelated areas: drought policies, early warning, monitoring and assessment, knowledge sharing and learning, partnerships and coordination, and drought finance.

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