Climate Change

Drought emergency declared by 23 countries in 2022-23, shows global drought map

1.84 billion people were drought stricken, out of which 4.7% exposed to severe or extreme drought

By Shagun
Published: Friday 01 December 2023
Photo: iStock

At least 23 countries, including India, declared drought emergencies at a national or sub-national level during 2022-23, showed new data from a global drought map compiled by the United Nations, pointing to unprecedented urgency on a planetary scale.  

Few, if any, hazards claim more lives, cause more economic loss and affect more sectors of society than drought, the report Global Drought Snapshot highlighted through its data. 

Based on reporting by 101 Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), 1.84 billion people were drought stricken, out of which 4.7 per cent were exposed to severe or extreme drought, the report, launched on December 1, 2023 by the UNCCD at the outset of the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) climate talks in Dubai, United Arab Emirates said. 

Read more: Ecological drought: where not just humanity but ecosystems suffer

An emergency was declared in 23 countries due to the impact of drought.  Of these, Europe had the highest number (8) — Spain, Italy and United Kingdom declaring it in April, May and July 2023, respectively, while Greece, Portugal, Romania and Serbia in July 2022. 

Drought and drought-like conditions spread to many European countries both in 2022 and 2023. The countries faced blistering heat and recorded their hottest summers. In 2022, the continent recorded its largest overall drought impacted area — over 630,000 square kilometres, as opposed to the 167,000 square kilometres annual average between 2000 and 2022, according to European Environment Agency, 2023. 

In recent years, droughts have expanded their territory and intensity. According to the map, United States and Canada also declared drought emergencies in January 2022 and March 2023, respectively. 

Countries that declared drought emergencies 2022-23

In Asia, five countries declared drought — India and Sri Lanka in August 2023, Indonesia in July 2023, Kazakhstan and China in April and May 2022, respectively. 

Read more: Coping with drought

The year 2023 has broken several records when it comes to extreme heat. On November 17, 2023, the world breached 2 degrees Celsius of warming, a number the world was constantly warned of not crossing. This new data was part of a preliminary analysis from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. 

Now, this new snapshot of the drought scenario around the world serves as a wake-up call. 

Droughts have a cascading effect — from dwindling reservoir levels to declining crop yields, from loss of biological diversity to famines and serious economic consequences, especially in agriculture dependent regions where drought-related crop failures lead to food shortages and often skyrocketing prices, potentially disrupting global food supply chains. 

The economic losses associated with the disaster were estimated to be in the billions of dollars annually, the report said

Read more: A way out of drought

Simultaneously, South American country Uruguay and the African countries of Niger, Djibouti, Cabo Verde and Mauritania also declared drought emergencies in 2022-23. Other countries included Kiribati, the Marshal Islands, and Tuvalu. 

The Horn of Africa faced its worst drought in 40 years, with Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia particularly hard hit. Five consecutive failures of rainfall seasons wreaked havoc over large parts of East Africa and contributed to reduced agricultural productivity, food insecurity and high food prices, as per World Meteorological Organization, 2023 data. 

The report emphasised the fact that the massive impacts of human-induced droughts are only starting to unfold. “Unlike other disasters that attract media attention, droughts happen silently, often going unnoticed and failing to provoke an immediate public and political response. This silent devastation perpetuates a cycle of neglect, leaving affected populations to bear the burden in isolation,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Ibrahim Thiaw. 

Global drought vulnerability index 2023

However, over the last two decades, only 26 per cent of (scientific) literature has sought to measure the extent to which society influences the duration and intensity of drought hazards. Fewer scholars (10 per cent) have been retracing the long-term dynamics between society and drought risk, the UNCCD report noted. 

Read more: What southern Africa can learn from other countries about adapting to drought

UNCCD is one of three Conventions originated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The other two address climate change (UNFCCC) and biodiversity (UN Convention on Biological Diversity). 

Data revealed that 85 per cent of people affected by droughts live in low-or middle-income countries. Moreover, 98 per cent of the 32.6 million new disaster displacements in 2022 were the result of weather-related hazards such as storms, floods and droughts.

The report was launched at a high-level event in Dubai with the International Drought Resilience Alliance, a collaborative platform, launched at the UNFCCC COP27 in 2022, led by the governments of Senegal and Spain. 

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