Time Bomb Ticking
Please click here and here to access the main findings of the WMO State of the Global Climate in 2021 report (released in May, 2022).
Drought at a glance
• Scientific consensus: There is strong evidence that human-induced climate change has led to an increased risk of drought (Hoegh-Guldberg et al, 2018).
• Human activities, there is an increase in average surface temperatures around the world (IPCC, 2021).
• Drought is deadly: From 1970 to 2019, drought was one of the hazards that led to the largest human losses, with a total of approximately 650,000 deaths.
• Among all the climate-related deaths during the period, more than 90 percent occurred in developing countries (WMO, 2021b).
• Drought is costly: Economic losses due to drought have increased multifold in the past decades (WMO, 2021b).
• Drought is devastating: An estimated 55 million people globally are directly affected by droughts every year, making it the most serious hazard to livestock and crops in nearly every part of the world (WHO, 2021).
• Drought affects women and girls disproportionately: Greater burdens and suffering are inflicted on women and girls in emerging and developing countries in terms of education levels, nutrition, health, sanitation, and safety (Algur et al., 2021).
• Almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts - by 2040, it is estimated that one in four children will be living in areas with extreme water shortages (UNICEF, 2019).
• Drought is underestimated: Droughts have deep, widespread and underestimated impacts on societies, ecosystems, and economies, with only a portion of the actual losses accounted for (UNDRR, 2021).
• Drought preparedness polices make a difference: Proactive measures to reduce risks and increase resilience of ecosystems and communities can be achieved through sustainable land management and ecosystem restoration policies (King-Okumu, C. et al., 2019).
• Land restoration is cost-effective: In Niger, farmers have substantially reduced drought risks by creating new agroforestry systems on 5 million hectares over 20 years, with average costs below USD20 per hectare (WRI, 2017).
• Education instills readiness: Through a program of ecological restoration-based education, farmers in the Colombian Amazon set up 71 novel nursery gardens, producing 400,000 seedlings of 21 native forest species (Vizcarra, N. 2020).
• Media matters: A case study of California in 2017 shows that an increase of about 100 drought stories over two months was associated with a reduction of 11 to 18 percent in typical household water-use (Quesnel, K. J., & Ajami, N. K., 2017).
• Turning the tide: Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, along with regenerative land and improved water management practices, is expected to substantially reduce the probability of extreme drought events (Hoegh-Guldberg, O., 2018).
• New horizons: A paradigm shift from ‘reactive’ and ‘crisis-based’ approaches to ‘proactive’ and ‘risk-based’ drought management approaches are indispensable (Tsegai, D. & Brüntrup, M., 2019).
Drought around the world (1900-2022)
• More than 10 million people lost their lives due to major drought events in the past century, causing several hundred billion USD in economic losses worldwide, and the numbers are rising (Guha-Sapir, D. et al., 2021).
• Severe drought affects Africa more than any other continent, with more than 300 events recorded in the past 100 years, accounting for 44 percent of the global total. More recently, sub-Saharan Africa has
• In the past century, 45 major drought events occurred in Europe, affecting millions of people and resulting in more than USD 27.8 billion in economic losses. Today, an annual average of 15 percent of the land area and 17 percent of the population within the European Union is affected by drought (Guha-Sapir, D. et al., 2021; European Environment Agency, 2017).
• In the U.S., crop failures and other economic losses due to drought have totaled several hundred billion USD over the last century – USD 249 billion alone since 1980 (NOAA-NCEI, 2021).
• Over the past century, the highest total number of humans affected by drought were in Asia (Guha-Sapir, D. et al., 2021).
Drought impacts on human society
• The effect of severe droughts was estimated to have reduced India’s gross domestic product by 2 to 5 percent over a period of 10 years (1998 to 2017) (UNDRR, 2021).
• As a result of the Australian Millennium Drought, total agricultural productivity fell by 18 percent in the period of 2002 to 2010 (WMO, 2021a).
• The burden of water collection – especially in drylands – falls disproportionately on women (72 percent) and girls (9 percent), who, in some cases, spend as much as 40 percent of their calorific intake carrying water (UNDRR, 2021).
• During the past two years (2020 and 2021), widespread precipitation deficits were recorded across the South American continent (Marinho Ferreira Barbosa et al, 2021) .
• Drought is a major driver of crop yield volatility and, in particular, causes low yields that can lead to substantial financial losses (Bucheli, J. et al., 2021).
Drought impacts on ecosystems
• The percentage of plants affected by drought has more than doubled in the last 40 years, with about 12 million hectares of land lost each year due to drought and desertification (FAO, 2017).
• Ecosystems progressively turn into carbon sources, especially during extreme drought events, detectable on five of six continents (Stocker, B. D. et al., 2019).
• One-third of global carbon dioxide emissions is offset by the carbon uptake of terrestrial ecosystems, yet their capacity to sequester carbon is highly sensitive to drought events (Chen, N. et al., 2020).
• The rapid increase in surface temperature correlates with declining biodiversity, including higher extinction rates (Nath, S. et al., 2021; Peace, N. 2020).
• Fourteen percent of all wetlands critical for migratory species, as listed by Ramsar, are located in drought-prone regions (WWF/RSIS, 2019).
• The megadrought in Australia contributed to ‘megafires’ in 2019 to 2020 that resulted in the most dramatic loss of habitat for threatened species in postcolonial history (Wintle, B. A. et al., 2020); about 3 billion animals were killed or displaced in the Australian wildfires (Eeden, van L. et al., 2020).
• Drought-induced peatland fires in Indonesia resulted in decreasing biodiversity, including both the number of individuals as well as plant species (Agus, C. et al., 2019).
• Photosynthesis in European ecosystems was reduced by 30percent during the summer drought of 2003, which resulted in an estimated net carbon release of 0.5 gigatons (Schuldt, B. et al., 2020).
• North American scientists confirm that drought reduces vegetation and bird abundance, vegetation richness and diversity, and diversity of arthropods in semi-arid shortgrass prairie (Peterson, E. K. et al., 2021).
• Eighty-four percent of all terrestrial ecosystems are threatened by changing and intensifying wildfires (WWF, 2019).
• During the first two decades of the 21st century, the Amazon experienced 3 widespread droughts, all of which triggered massive forest fires (Brando, P.M.et al., 2020). Drought events are becoming increasingly common in the Amazon region due to land-use and climate change, which are interlinked (Aragão, L. E. et al., 2018). If Amazonian deforestation continues unabated, 16 percent of the region’s remaining forests will likely burn by 2050 (Boulton et al., 2022; Brando, P. M. et al., 2020).
• During one of the severest droughts in Costa Rica (2015), species-specific mortality rates reached up to 34 percent (Powers, J. S. et al., 2020).
• Drought has reduced the ecosystem productivity of Tibetan grasslands significantly in recent years, including soil drought, which now occurs more frequently and lasts for about 20 percent of the year (Xu, M. et al., 2021).
Predictable futures: We are at a crossroads
• Climate change is expected to increase the risk of droughts in many vulnerable regions of the world, particularly those with rapid population growth, vulnerable populations and challenges with food security (CRED & UNDRR, 2020).
• The World Bank estimates that up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050, largely due to drought, together with other factors such as water scarcity, declining crop productivity, sea-level rise and
• Within the next few decades, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure mainly due to climate change alone – 23 primarily due to population growth and 38 mostly due to the interaction between climate change and population growth (Smirnov, O. et al., 2016).
• If global warming reaches 3 degrees Celsius by 2100, as has been predicted, drought losses could be five times higher than they are today, with the largest increase in drought losses projected in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic regions of Europe (Cammalleri, C. et al., 2020).
• In Angola, more than 40 percent of livestock, a significant livelihood source accounting for 31.4 percent of the agricultural GDP, is currently exposed to droughts and expected to rise to 70 percent under projected climate conditions (UNDRR, 2021).
• In the E.U. and U.K., annual losses from drought are currently estimated to be around EUR 9 billion and projected to rise to more than EUR 65 billion without meaningful climate action (Naumann et al., 2021).
• By 2050, between 4.8 and 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 (UN Water, 2021).