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Action on drought

Posted 18/06/2013 by cgodfrey

Water scarcity is a problem that won’t go away. An estimated 100 to 200m people already live in arid and semi-arid areas with limited freshwater availability, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). And by 2025, it is expected that two-thirds of them will experience water stress.

People need water not just to drink, but also to support the world’s farming and agricultural industry, natural ecosystems and not forgetting business and industry. Each person needs at least 2000m3 of water/year for human well-being and sustainable development, yet on average people in the so-called ‘drylands’ have only 1300m3/year.

With only 2.5% of all the water on Earth as freshwater, of which less than 1% is useable by ecosystems and people, water security was always going to be a problem.

World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June this week aims to bring the issue to wider public attention, and calls for a shift from crisis management to drought preparedness and resilience. ‘For over three decades, the international community has grappled with drought impacts and their mitigation. But relief dominates. In most cases, the response is too late,’ said Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UNCCD, the treaty designed to lead efforts to mitigate drought and land degradation.

The effects of drought are ever present. In May, Namibia declared a national drought emergency as 14% of the population became food insecure. In 2012, the US experienced its worst drought since the 1950s, affecting 80% of agricultural land. In 2011, drought in the Horn of Africa – the worst since the early 1990s – affected nearly 13m people.

The consequences for those affected, often among the world’s poorest, are dire. Drought has claimed more than 1.6bn lives since 1979, many of which it is argued might have been avoided. In the village of Batodi in Niger, for example, Gnacadja pointed out that 5m ha of land were restored through agroforestry. As a result, the water table rose by 14m.

‘Droughts are never sudden, so why do they claim lives on par or more than sudden disasters?’ he asks.

Water security affects us all. This year’s slogan, ‘Don’t let our future dry up’, calls for everyone to take action.

Cath O’Driscoll, Deputy editor

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