The World Meteorological Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification this week have joined forces to hold a meeting on National Drought Policy in Geneva. The meeting focuses on drought preparedness and management policies.
Droughts cause the deaths and displacement of more people than cyclones, floods and earthquakes combined, making them the world's most destructive natural hazard, FAO says, yet effective drought management policies are missing in most parts of the world.
"Despite being predictable, drought is the most costly and the deadliest disaster of our time. The decision to mitigate drought is ultimately political. Governments of all drought-prone countries need to adopt, mainstream and operationalize national drought policies, based on the principles of early warning, preparedness and risk management," said UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja. "The cost of crisis management far exceeds that of risk management and early action and we should not wait until the next drought, causing famine and claiming human lives."
From crisis management to disaster risk reduction
The purpose of the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy is to encourage countries to move from crisis management to disaster risk reduction – an approach already successfully embraced for hazards such as tropical cyclones and floods.
Specific targets include:
-Proactive mitigation and planning measures, risk management, public outreach and resource stewardship as key elements of effective national drought policy;
-Greater collaboration to enhance the national, regional and global observation networks and information delivery systems to improve public understanding of, and preparedness for, drought;
-Incorporation of comprehensive governmental and private insurance and financial strategies into drought preparedness plans;
-Recognition of a safety net of emergency relief based on sound stewardship of natural resources and self-help at diverse governance levels;
-Coordination of drought programs and response in an effective, efficient and customer-oriented manner.
Heavy human and economic toll
Most recently, droughts have affected the Greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, the U.S., Mexico, Northeast Brazil, parts of China and India, Russia and Southeast Europe. The most vulnerable countries are in the world's drylands, with the poorest communities in Africa and parts of western Asia are at particular risk, FAO says.
The effects can last long after the rains return, with food remaining scarce and expensive and depleted water resources, eroded soils, weakened livestock, and legal and social conflicts lingering for years. Often, droughts are broken by major flood events, so they catch communities when they are most vulnerable, and add to the damages experienced.
Today, 168 countries claim to be affected by desertification, a process of land degradation in the drylands that affects food production and is exacerbated by drought.
At the Rio+20 Sustainable Development Conference held last June in Brazil, world leaders identified desertification, land degradation and drought as global challenges and committed to strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world, in which degradation of new areas is avoided and unavoidable degradation is offset by restoring an equal amount of land in the same time and in the same ecosystem.
Sustainable land management practices, including restoring degraded lands and improving soil and water management that help to mitigate drought already exist, but need to be reflected, supported and scaled up by national policies, FAO says.
Increasing resilience, focusing efforts
Better drought management is one of the priorities of the Global Framework for Climate Services now being implemented by governments with support from the United Nations. Climate services aim to increase drought resilience by improving climate information and services, especially for the most vulnerable. They will build on fast improving climate prediction capabilities.
The GFCS aims to give global access to improved services for four priority sectors – food security and agriculture, water, health and disaster risk reduction – by the end of 2017.