May 18, 2022
A new report released last week predicts a future in which droughts could affect more than three-quarters of the world’s population unless we act. Climate change and population growth are identified as key drivers, with drought predicted in 23 countries to be mainly due to population growth and in 38 countries to a combination of climate change and population growth.
Fresh water is a basic need – unlike most consumer products and lifestyle choices, none of us can live without it, we all have to share it and there is a finite amount of it. It is difficult and costly to redistribute water from where it is plentiful to where it is scarce, and our own actions mean that more people around the world will be deprived of it.
Drought in figures 2022, of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), identifies the increasing severity and extent of drought. he is clear on the fundamental drivers of the crisis, stating:
“Over the next few decades, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure primarily due to climate change alone – 23 primarily due to population growth and 38 primarily due to the interaction between climate change and population growth.”
Drought leads to food shortages, ‘megafires’, loss of biodiversity, and can even cause ecosystems to release carbon into the atmosphere instead of capturing it.
Among other findings, it warns that 700 million people could be displaced by drought and that up to 5.7 billion people could live in areas that lack water for at least one month a year – the figure rises. stands at a shocking 3.6 billion already today. He continues, “up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050, largely due to drought in combination with other factors including water scarcity, declining land productivity crops, rising sea levels and overpopulation”.
A global challenge
While it is easy to cast drought as a problem affecting arid, low-income countries bordering deserts, nowhere is immune. According to the report, over the past century, Europe has been hit by 45 drought emergencies, or nearly one every two years. In the UK and EU, it finds that “annual drought losses are currently estimated at around €9 billion and are projected to reach over €65 billion without significant climate action”.
The list of 23 countries facing drought emergencies between 2020 and 2022 features some of the countries most unable to cope with the challenge, mostly low-income countries with high population growth, including Afghanistan, Niger, Madagascar and Ethiopia. However, the United States and Brazil (home to the world’s largest river and largest rainforest) are also on the list.