The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 2005, with seven of the ten have occurred since 2014.
This is the general phenomenon known as global warming and is brought about by the damage to the atmosphere and environment and is seen as catastrophic.
One of the consequences of global warming is resulting in droughts. Droughts have been in existence for Millenia but with the trends of global warming and climate change, more droughts will be witnessed and more calamity will only follow.
This article looks into droughts, their causes, effects and potential solutions.
What is a Drought?
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) defines drought as a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. Drought is characterized by a lack of precipitation, such as rain, snow, or sleet, for a protracted period, resulting in a water shortage.
The average precipitation is low even if the amount of precipitation at a particular location varies from year to year.
Plants die when soils dry out because of little to no rain. When the level of rainfall is less than normal for weeks to years, stream flow declines, water levels in lakes and reservoirs fall, and the depth to water in wells increases.
When such dry weather persists and water supply problems develop, the dry period becomes a drought. Droughts affect more people globally than any other natural disaster.
Also, in contrast to other natural disasters, they all announce their arrival, are large and generate destruction in impact and even after they are gone, but droughts are different. They do not make a big entrance and the start of a drought might even be mistaken for a bit of a dry spell.
Their effects build over time and leave a trail of destruction as dangerous and deadly as any other extreme weather event. What is also serious about droughts is that they do not leave immediately, and in fact, they have affected more people over the past four decades than any other type of natural disaster.
Also, unlike other natural disasters, droughts can be occasioned by human activity. Well, they can occur naturally, but human activity, such as water use and management, can exacerbate dry conditions.
Droughts are categorized according to how they develop and what types of impact they have. Meteorological droughts occur when a region’s rainfall falls far short of expectation. This results in a large swath of parched and cracked earth.
Agricultural droughts are occasioned by agricultural tendencies, when available water supplies cannot meet the needs of crops or livestock at a particular time. This type of drought can stem from meteorological droughts, reduced access to water supplies, or simply poor timing.
For example, when snowmelt occurs before runoff is most needed to hydrate crops. Finally, you have hydrological droughts, which occur when a lack of rainfall persists long enough to deplete surface water like rivers, reservoirs, or streams, as well as groundwater supplies.
Various Causes of Drought
1. Natural causes
Some droughts have occurred naturally, plaguing humankind throughout much of our history. Until recently, naturally occurring droughts were often natural phenomena triggered by cyclical weather patterns, such as the amount of moisture and heat in the air, land, and sea.
2. Altered weather patterns
The distribution of rainfall around the world can also be affected by how air circulates through the atmosphere. When there is an anomaly in surface temperatures, particularly over the sea, air circulation patterns are altered.
This changes how and where precipitation falls around the world and the new weather patterns will most likely throw water supply and demand out of sync, as is the case when earlier-than-usual snowmelt reduces the amount of water available for crops in the summer.
3. Excess water demands
Drought can also result because of an imbalance in the supply and demand of water. As the global human population continues to balloon and intensive agricultural practices continue to be employed, more water is required to sustain the human race as well as the agricultural practices.
This continues to tip the scales, making droughts a reality with each passing day. A study estimated that between 1960 and 2010, the human consumption of water increased the frequency of drought in North America by 25%.
The situation is worsened by dwindling rainfalls, forcing people to pump more water from rivers, aquifers and reservoirs. Doing this depletes valuable water resources that could take years to replenish and could permanently impact future water availability.
At the same time, demand for water supplied by upstream lakes and rivers, particularly in the form of irrigation and hydroelectric dams, leads to the diminishing or drying out of downstream water sources, further contributing to droughts in other regions
4. Deforestation and soil degradation
Trees and plants are important as they release moisture to the atmosphere, resulting in clouds forming and rainfall falling, returning the moisture to the ground. Unfortunately, the human race is the best at destroying these natural resources.
When forests and vegetation disappear, less water is available to feed the water cycle, making entire regions more vulnerable to drought. Meanwhile, deforestation and other poor land-use practices, like intensive farming, continue to diminish soil quality and reduce the land’s ability to absorb and retain water.
As a result, soil dries out faster, inducing agricultural droughts, and less groundwater is replenished, contributing to hydrological drought.
5. Global warming
As the name suggests, the planet is being warmed at alarming rates and could cause droughts. Global warming is mostly associated with human activity such as releasing greenhouse gases which cause a trapping effect, causing global temperatures to rise.
With increased temperatures, water from rivers, streams, lakes and other bodies of water will continue to evaporate and other practices will result in less of it coming back down as rain. This will therefore result in less rainfall and, of course, droughts.
6. Climate change
Rising temperatures have the effect of making wet regions wetter and dry regions drier. For wetter regions, warm air will absorb more water, leading to larger rain events, while in more arid regions, warmer temperatures mean water evaporates more quickly.
Climate change also alters large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns, causing a shift in storm tracks off their typical paths. This, in turn, magnifies weather extremes, which is one reason why climate models predict the already parched U.S. Southwest and the Mediterranean will continue to get drier.
7. Fluctuating ocean and land temperatures
Global weather patterns, including dry and wet conditions on land, are mostly determined by ocean temperatures, and even minor changes in temperature can have profound consequences on climate systems.
According to research, extreme weather patterns on land, such as protracted droughts in North America and the eastern Mediterranean correspond directly to dramatic and prolonged temperature changes in the North Pacific and North Atlantic oceans.
Disastrous Effects of Drought
1. Hunger and famine
Droughts result in too little water to support food crops through either natural precipitation or irrigation using reserve water supplies. When drought undermines or destroys food sources, people go hungry and when the drought is severe and continues over a long period, famine occurs.
The best example is the 1984 famine in Ethiopia, which resulted from a deadly combination of a severe drought and a dangerously ineffective government and led to hundreds of thousands dying.
2. Not enough drinking water
Droughts will also result in water scarcity and not enough water to drink or use. All living things must have water to survive and when desperate for water to drink, people will turn to untreated sources that can make them sick.
The lack of clean water will also result in poor public sanitation and personal hygiene and, of course, a wide range of life-threatening diseases. Every year, millions are sickened or die due to a lack of clean water access and sanitation, and droughts will only make the problem worse.
3. Wildfires and an effect on wildlife
The low moisture and precipitation that often characterize droughts can quickly create hazardous conditions in forests and across rangelands, setting the stage for wildfires that may cause injuries or deaths as well as extensive property damage and already shrinking food supplies.
With wild animals and plants suffering from droughts, even if they have adapted to dry conditions, they will die or invade human populations in search of water.
Droughts will then result in increased mortality and reduced reproduction, which is especially problematic for populations of at-risk species whose numbers are already very low.
4. Social conflicts and wars
When a precious commodity like water is in short supply due to drought, and the lack of water creates a corresponding lack of food, people will compete, and eventually fight and kill, to secure enough water to survive.
The ongoing Syrian Civil War is believed to have started after millions of rural Syrians fled the drought-stricken rural areas for the cities, triggering unrest.
5. Migration and relocation
Faced with the other impacts of drought, many people and of course animals will flee a drought-stricken area in search of a new home with a better supply of water, enough food, and without the disease and conflict that were present in the place they are leaving.
Most people in the world continue to rely on hydroelectric projects for their electricity. Drought will reduce the amount of water stored in reservoirs behind dams, reducing the amount of power produced.
This problem can be very challenging for the many small communities relying on small-scale hydro, where a small electric turbine is installed on a local creek.
7. Economic Effects
Droughts frequently have a negative financial impact on families, businesses, governments, and individuals. Low yields lead to a significant revenue loss and ultimately result in pay reductions and farm labor layoffs.
Since farmers lack the funds to buy equipment, businesses and companies that make farm equipment may go out of business. Hydropower plants run at a reduced capacity when the water supply is low, which forces enterprises to pay more for electricity or suffer the expense of utilizing their own generators.
Effective Solutions to Drought
1. Harvesting rainwater
This is an easy solution to droughts and can be employed with ease at home. With rainwater harvesting, homes can store the water they get from rain and then use it when they need it in dry conditions, rather than exhausting present water bodies like rivers.
If a house has a primary water source, then rainwater harvesting provides them with an auxiliary option that they can use when water is not available.
2. Planting more trees and combating deforestation
This is something that needs to be employed by everyone in the world and can result in billions of trees planted daily. It is a piece of old-age advice but still applies today. Planting more trees will improve the quality of the environment and increase the success of precipitation.
It can also reverse the drought and arid conditions of an area if the trees are maintained well until maturity. With planting more trees, the other solution is to avoid the existing ones, unless more are planted.
For instance, the Amazon in South America is being destroyed at alarming rates, and scientists have warned that decades of human activity and a changing climate will bring the jungle near a “tipping point.”
The deforestation coupled with forest fires and global temperature rises will soon result in the water cycle being irreversibly broken and locking in a trend of declining rainfall and longer dry seasons that began decades ago.
3. Switching to renewable energies
We have, for long, relied on non-renewable sources for our energy, like petroleum. The extraction and use of these energies results in more greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere, resulting in global warming and, of course, droughts.
The alternative is to switch to renewable sources like wind and solar, which have little to no effect on the environment and will not result in droughts.
4. Solar pumps
Water is most commonly pumped out of the earth to irrigate crops or supply livestock with water. Pumps do, however, use electricity, which uses more fossil fuels overall.
Because they don’t consume electricity from the mains to pump water for irrigation, solar pumps are becoming more and more common.
The advantages of solar pumps are being recognized by governments worldwide, and some have even provided subsidies to farmers so they may install them affordably.
5. Stricter government policies
These can be used at the local, national, regional and international levels. Stringent laws need to be implemented on those who use practices that can cause droughts or other environmentally damaging results.
Doing this will stop climate change and solve the ongoing droughts. They include limiting the amounts of greenhouse gases being pumped into the atmosphere and higher taxes for non-compliance.
6. Becoming environmentally conscious
This includes educating the younger generation on the need to protect, preserve and improve the environment, recycling, reusing and planting more trees.
The education curriculum, the news media and companies also need to stress the need to care for the environment, so that it becomes an individual task to prevent droughts.