A new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has argued that humanity is “at a crossroads” when it comes to managing the increasingly high number of droughts and the severity of their impacts worldwide. The experts found that, since 2000, the number and duration of droughts has increased by 29 percent, and took the largest human toll among all natural disasters. If mitigation actions are not done “urgently, using every tool we have,” droughts may end up affecting over three-quarters of the world’s population by 2050.
“The facts and figures of this publication all point in the same direction: an upward trajectory in the duration of droughts and the severity of impacts, not only affecting human societies, but also the ecological systems upon which the survival of all life depends, including that of our own species,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, the Executive Secretary of UNCCD.
The report revealed that from 1970 to 2019, weather, climate, and water hazards accounted for over 50 percent of all natural disasters and 45 percent of disaster-related casualties, most of them in developing countries. From 1998 to 2017, droughts caused global economic losses of nearly $124 billion. This year, over 2.3 billion people face water stress and 160 million children are exposed to severe and extended droughts.
According to the scientists, unless action is significantly stepped up, by the end of this decade an estimated 700 million people may be displaced by droughts, while by mid-century 4.8 to 5.7 billion people will live in water-scarce areas for at least one month per year.
“We are at a crossroads,” said Thiaw. “We need to steer toward the solutions rather than continuing with destructive actions, believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure. One of the best, most comprehensive solutions is land restoration, which addresses many of the underlying factors of degraded water cycles and the loss of soil fertility. We must build and rebuild our landscapes better, mimicking nature wherever possible and creating functional ecological systems.”
Beyond these restoration efforts, there is an urgent need for a paradigm shift from “reactive” and “crisis-based” drought management approaches to “proactive” and “risk-based” ones, involving political and institutional communication, cooperation, and coordination. “We all must live up to our responsibility to ensure the health of present and future generations, wholeheartedly and without delay,” concluded Thiaw.
Further details about this report can be found on UNCCD’s website.