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Disaster Management

Severe droughts to affect 2-5% of India’s GDP finds UN Disaster Risk Reduction report

Severe droughts to affect 2-5% of India’s GDP finds UN Disaster Risk Reduction report


  • GS 3 || Disaster Management || Major Disasters || Droughts

Why in news?

  • A special report on drought 2021 released by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) estimates that “a severe drought will have an annual impact on India’s GDP of about 2-5%.”

Global Assessment Report (GAR) on Drought 2021

  • The report explores the current understanding of drought risk, its drivers, and how people, economies, and ecosystems are exposed and are vulnerable.
  • It looks into rising water stress across the globe and resulting migration and desertification.
  • The report also provides recommendations for reducing drought risks and mitigating the impacts on communities and economies.

Highlights of the report

  • Drought impacts are intensifying as the world moves towards being 2°C warmer.
  • Climate change has already led to more intense and longer droughts in some regions of the world.
  • Projections indicate more frequent and more severe droughts over wide parts of the world, in particular most of Africa, Central, and South America, Central Asia, southern Australia, southern Europe, Mexico, and the US.
  • The extent and severity of these projected droughts largely depend on the magnitude of the temperature rise.

Key Findings of the Report

  • Globally
    • Around 20 million people across Africa and the Middle East are on the brink of starvation due to droughts.
    • Around 700 million people are at risk of being displaced as a result of drought by 2030.
    • Two-third of the world will be under water-stressed conditions by 2025.
  • India
    • The effect of severe droughts on India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated at 2-5%.
    • The Deccan region sees the highest frequency (>6%) of severe droughts in all of India.
    • Significant drought conditions are found once every three years in the Deccan plateau, leading to large-scale migration and desertification.
    • Overdependence on groundwater resources and lack of water-retaining structures have significantly increased vulnerability in Indian cities during severe drought events.

What is Drought?

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)defines drought as a period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological (water) imbalance.
  • As defined by the IMD, drought is a consequence of the natural reduction in the amount of precipitation for a long period of time.
  • It results from a shortfall of precipitation (rainfall) over a certain period, from the inadequate timing or the ineffectiveness of the precipitation.
  • It also results from a negative water balance due to an increased atmospheric water demand following high temperatures or strong winds.
  • Human activities resulting in water scarcity and changes in the climate system play a key role in drought intensification and propagation.

Types of Drought

  • There are three types of droughts known to the scientific community:
  • Meteorological drought occurs when there is a prolonged time with less than average precipitation.
    • Such types of droughts can be triggered by a high level of reflected sunlight and an above-average prevalence of high-pressure systems, winds carrying continental, rather than oceanic air masses.
  • Agricultural droughts affect crop production or the ecology of the range.
    • This condition can also arise independently from any change in precipitation levels when either increased irrigation or soil conditions and erosion triggered by poorly planned agricultural activities cause a shortfall in water available to the crops.
  • Hydrological drought is brought about when the water reserves available in sources such as aquifers, lakes, and reservoirs fall below a locally significant threshold.
    • Hydrological drought tends to show up more slowly because it involves stored water that is used but not replenished. Like an agricultural drought, this can be triggered by more than just a loss of rainfall.

Impact of drought

  • Drought causes economic, environmental, and social impacts
  • Droughts affect large areas and populations, having far-reaching consequences for society, the economy, the environment, and, ultimately, sustainable development.
  • Drought has directly affected 5 billion people so far this century and this number will grow significantly unless the world gets better at managing this risk
  • For instance-In the recent drought in Tamil Nadu, the primary industry fell by 20%, resulting in a 5% decline in the industry as a whole and a 3% decline in the service sector. 
  • A study found that in a severe drought year, farmers in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha lost close to the US $400 million. 
  • Globally, the report estimates an annual loss of approximately $ 6.4 billion in the United States due to drought and € 9 billion in Europe.
    • In Australia, a study found that agricultural productivity fell by 18% between 2002 and 2010 due to drought-like conditions.
  • Poverty
    • A study was undertaken by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences, in association with research organizations of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha, shows that drought is a major factor for keeping people below the poverty line forever.
  • Agriculture and water resources 
    • The first-round impacts on agriculture and water resources account for a significant proportion of drought impacts.
    • Most of the world will face water scarcity in the coming years as industrialization and urbanization increase demand beyond supply.
    • Example-A study by Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW), a Delhi-based think tank In 50 years, a seven-fold increase in drought, six-fold in the frequency of extreme flood events
  • Others are follow-up impacts on the population immediately affected by droughts, such as farmer incomes and the health, nutrition, and education status of drought-affected populations.
    • In a 2019 case study, “The villages of the Maharashtra and Karnataka districts were abandoned due to the family’s departure due to a serious water crisis. 
  • Environmental effects
    • Lower surface and subterranean waterlevels, lower flow-levels (with a decrease below the minimum leading to direct danger for amphibian life), increased pollution of surface water, the drying out of wetlands, more and larger fires, higher deflation intensity, loss of biodiversity, worse health of trees and the appearance of pests and dendroid diseases.
  • Desertification
    • Drought is one of the drivers of desertification and land degradation when it is not properly managed, increasing the fragility of ecosystems, particularly in rural communities.
  • Scarcity of food, conflict
    • Drought exacerbates food, water, and energy vulnerabilities, potentially leading to social vulnerability and conflict.
    • Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, parts of the North-East, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Telangana (home to 40% of the country’s population, i.e500 million people) are the worst hit.
  • Crop Weather Watch Group (CWWG), an inter-Ministerial mechanism, evaluates information and data furnished by IMD and other scientific and technical bodies to determine the likely impact of meteorological events and other environmental parameters on agriculture.

Way forward

  • There is a need for a more organized and common conceptual framework for assessing drought risk and for analyzing the “Benefits of Action and Costs of Inaction” (BACI).
  • Irrigation can also provide an important buffer against droughts, particularly in the less arid parts of the drylands. A study suggests that irrigation development is technically feasible and financially viable on 5 to 9 million hectares in the drylands.
  • Prevention: Compared to reaction and response, prevention has far lower human, financial, and environmental costs.
    • China- To control this soil erosion, various soil conservation programs consisting of terracing, construction of check dams, and vegetation restoration, notably afforestation, have been implemented by the Chinese government since the 1950s.
  • Drought Management Mechanisms: Drought management mechanisms at the international and national levels could help address the complex and cascading nature of drought risk.
    • Drought monitoring and early warning systems to determine drought status.
    • Australian farmers manage drought in several ways, including diversifying their production risks, building reserves for when conditions are unfavorable, and increasing or decreasing their production based on climatic conditions.
  • Financial Systems-Financial systems and services must evolve to promote cooperative approaches, social protection mechanisms, risk transfer, and contingent financing.
    • California unveiled a $3.4 billion package aimed at programs to ease the impact of the drought in San Deigo.
    • The Australian Government has committed $9 million over five years to improve water security and drought resilience in the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) through increasing artesian pressure and reducing wastage of the resource.
  • Inclusion-New avenues are required to encourage the incorporation of indigenous and local knowledge, as well as the effective sharing of drought risk management experiences.
  • Risk Governance: Improved risk governance and a better understanding of complex systemic risks can lead to more effective drought risk management.
  • Activities such as water-use planning, rain-water harvesting, runoff collection using surface and underground structures, improved management of channels and wells, exploration of additional water resources through drilling and dam construction, are implemented as a part of a droughtmitigation
  • San Deigo
    • Some $500 million would go to grants for replacing lawns and money for farmers to improve irrigation systems.
    • The new desalination plant and the eventual Pure Water San Diego facilities are designed, respectively, to make ocean water and wastewater drinkable.
  • Productivity-enhancing interventions could protect livestock-keeping households and increase the area’s number of resilient households by 50 percent.
    • For example, in 2010 only 30 percent of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist households in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa possessed enough livestock assets to stay out of poverty in the face of recurrent droughts.