What Emergency Managers Should Know About the 2021 Drought Crisis
We’re midway through 2021, and many are still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19. Even before we turn the page, the United Nations is already warning that there’s another pandemic hidden in our midst. What is it? It’s the 2021 drought crisis.
Understanding the 2021 drought crisis
Just this year the United Nations Office of Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), the UN body responsible for implementing the multinational Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, put out a Global Assessment Report (GAR) on the 2021 drought crisis.
What did it say? Well, as it stands, 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought conditions during this century alone. The economic toll of this drought crisis has been staggering; even excluding developing countries, estimates come in just shy of USD 125 billion.
And there’s reason to believe things will get worse. The conditions exacerbating the 2021 drought crisis include population growth, changing rainfall patterns due to climate breakdown, inefficient use of water resources, and degradation of land under intensive agriculture – all factors that are difficult to change.
As a result, droughts aren’t just localised issues. Indeed, extreme drought has become widespread.
Advanced economies are some of the hardest hit areas. The western United States has become a perennial sufferer. Currently, 50 of California’s 58 counties are under a drought emergency; the state’s governor is asking residents and businesses to conserve an additional 15 per cent of water.
Australia and southern Europe have also seen an upsurge in drought emergencies. Conservative estimates show economic costs in the billions every year.
Looking at it all, Mami Mizutori, UN secretary general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction, opines:
“Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought is a major factor in land degradation and the decline of yields for major crops.”
What can be done to address the 2021 drought crisis and future climate emergencies?
So, what should we do? Well, emergency planners in drought-affected (and drought-adjacent) areas need to look seriously at the risk assessments on which their emergency plans are based.
What’s more, emergency planners need to heed the UN’s call for a modernised view of and approach to the 2021 drought crisis and future climate emergencies. That entails understanding that drought affects more than just agriculture but also transportation, tourism, energy generation, and industry more general.
Policymakers can adopt reforms of and regulations to the way water is extracted, stored, and used as well as the way land is managed; but it is emergency managers who will have to assess their emergency management systems. The UN’s recommendation, here, is for early warning systems – we’ve seen similar recommendations come out of the Bushfire Commission – and advanced weather forecasting techniques.
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