Drought is a global problem, and we need a global solution – ‘All the technical gizmos in the world haven’t stopped wells emptying in California after four years of low rains’Posted by Jim at Tuesday, October 13, 2015
By Fred Pearce
9 October 2015
(The Guardian) – Drought is arguably the biggest single threat from climate change. Its impacts are global. Some say drought triggered the crisis in Syria that sent tens of thousands of refugees heading for Europe this summer. Relief failures and poor drought forecasting caused innumerable deaths in the Horn of Africa during 2011 and 2012. Yet calls to head off future disasters by establishing a UN body to provide a global drought early warning system, first made almost a decade ago, remain unfulfilled.
A drought can be defined in various ways. A meteorological drought, for example, is when the rains fail. A hydrological drought is when the lack of rainfall goes on long enough to empty rivers and lower water tables. Agricultural drought begins when the lack of water starts killing crops and livestock. And after that, people may start dying too.
Right now, international agencies defer to national governments before declaring a drought, because they say it is partly subjective, and highly political. Nobody is accepting responsibility for setting up a global body, and nobody is putting up the necessary funding, say experts in the field. The UN climate event in New York last month passed without any further progress.
To further complicate matters, current forecast mechanisms, which require good forecast data and local knowledge to see how dry conditions will impact local water and food supplies, are unreliable and are least likely to be acted on to prevent disaster in the countries that are most at risk.
Droughts, however you define them, can’t be prevented. All the technical gizmos in the world haven’t stopped wells emptying in California after four years of low rains. But with research and collaboration, a global early warning system can stop failed rains resulting in empty grain stores, and refugee camps full of hungry people in vulnerable parts of the world. Meteorologists and aid professionals say a global agency could fill the gaps and save millions of lives. [more]