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Droughts threaten sustainable development

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Drought is one of the most destructive natural disasters in terms of impacts on agriculture and food security, ecosystems, human health and water resources. Exacerbated by land degradation and climate change, droughts are increasing in frequency and severity, up 29% since 2000, with 55 million people affected every year.

When more than 2.3 billion people already face water stress, this is a huge problem. No country is immune.

This year, the theme of the International Day Against Desertification and Drought on 17 June is "Rising up from drought together." It emphasises the need of an early action to avoid disastrous consequences for humanity and the planetary ecosystems.

WMO is at the forefront of initiatives to tackle drought in a proactive and integrated manner. WMO and the Global Water Partnership (GWP) co-sponsors the Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP) and partners with about 40 partner organizations. IDMP has developed the three pillars of integrated drought management: 1) drought early warning and monitoring, 2) drought vulnerability and risk assessments and 3) risk mitigation, preparedness and response.

More generally, WMO is working to extend the coverage of early warning services – including for flash floods and drought and sand and dust storms and to strengthen the hydrological observing system as part of a wider Water and Climate Coalition.

The challenges are growing.

“There has been a decrease in soil moisture in many parts of the world and that’s very striking when it comes to agricultural production. We have seen a boost in the melting of glaciers which means we are getting less freshwater in rivers. We have seen changes in rainfall patterns. Some parts of the world getting drier and some parts of world more flooding problems,” says WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas.

“Recent droughts point at a precarious future for the world. Food and water shortages as well as wildfires caused by the severe drought have all intensified in recent years, » says Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention on Desertification and Drought.

This year’s event is hosted by the government of Spain. Spain – like the entire Mediterranean region - is vulnerable to drought, water shortages and connected climate change impacts. This year is noexception. The Iberian peninsula has been gripped this week by an unusually early and intense heatwave is spreading up from North Africa through Europe.

The Spanish national meteorological and hydrological service AEMET said that temperatures in the interior of the country have topped 40°C. High temperatures and drought combined in an extreme fire risk for much of Spain and part of Portugal. Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA) reported the warmest May since 1931 and the severe drought situation is affecting 97% of the territory.

France saw its warmest and driest May on record. Large areas from southeastern Central Europe to the northwestern Black Sea are also suffering from drought.

Across the Atlantic, much of the western USA is facing the second or third drought year in a row (depending on the region), with fears of growing water stress heading into the summer season. The two largest reservoirs in the U.S., Lake Mead and Lake Powell, in Arizona, are currently at the lowest levels since they were filled: both are at just below 30% of capacity, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Meteorological agencies, including WMO, and humanitarian partners have issued a joint alert that the threat of starvation in East Africa looms after four failed rainy seasons and that the situation is set to worsen. The current extreme, widespread, and persistent multi-season drought affecting Somalia, the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya, and Ethiopia’s Belg-receiving and eastern and southern pastoral areas, is unprecedented. Four consecutive rainy seasons have failed, a climatic event not seen in at least 40 years.

The latest long-lead seasonal forecasts, supported by a broad consensus from meteorological experts, indicate that there is now a concrete risk that the October-December (OND) rainy season could also fail. Should these forecasts materialize, the already severe humanitarian emergency in the region would further deepen, it said.

Details on Desertification and Drought Day are here