A drought is a period of below-average precipitation in a given
region, resulting in prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether
atmospheric, surface water or ground water. A drought can last for
months or years, or may be declared after as few as 15 days. It can
have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the
affected region and harm to the local economy. Annual dry
seasons in the tropics significantly increase the chances of a drought
developing and subsequent bush fires. Periods of heat can
significantly worsen drought conditions by hastening evaporation of
Many plant species, such as those in the family Cactaceae (or cacti),
have drought tolerance adaptations like reduced leaf area and waxy
cuticles to enhance their ability to tolerate drought. Some others
survive dry periods as buried seeds. Semi-permanent drought produces
arid biomes such as deserts and grasslands. Prolonged droughts have
caused mass migrations and humanitarian crises. Most arid ecosystems
have inherently low productivity. The most prolonged drought ever in
the world in recorded history occurred in the
Atacama Desert in Chile
1 Causes of drought
1.2 Dry season
1.3 El Niño
Erosion and human activities
1.5 Climate change
3 Consequences of drought
5 Protection, mitigation and relief
6 See also
8 External links
Causes of drought
See also: Precipitation
Mechanisms of producing precipitation include convective,
stratiform, and orographic rainfall.
involve strong vertical motions that can cause the overturning of the
atmosphere in that location within an hour and cause heavy
precipitation, while stratiform processes involve weaker upward
motions and less intense precipitation over a longer duration.
Precipitation can be divided into three categories, based on whether
it falls as liquid water, liquid water that freezes on contact with
the surface, or ice. Droughts occur mainly in areas where normal
levels of rainfall are, in themselves, low. If these factors do not
support precipitation volumes sufficient to reach the surface over a
sufficient time, the result is a drought.
Drought can be triggered by
a high level of reflected sunlight and above average prevalence of
high pressure systems, winds carrying continental, rather than oceanic
air masses, and ridges of high pressure areas aloft can prevent or
restrict the developing of thunderstorm activity or rainfall over one
certain region. Once a region is within drought, feedback mechanisms
such as local arid air, hot conditions which can promote warm core
ridging, and minimal evapotranspiration can worsen drought
See also: Dry season
Within the tropics, distinct, wet and dry seasons emerge due to the
movement of the
Intertropical Convergence Zone
Intertropical Convergence Zone or
The dry season greatly increases drought occurrence, and is
characterized by its low humidity, with watering holes and rivers
drying up. Because of the lack of these watering holes, many grazing
animals are forced to migrate due to the lack of water and feed to
more fertile spots. Examples of such animals are zebras,
elephants, and wildebeest. Because of the lack of water in the
plants, bushfires are common. Since water vapor becomes more
energetic with increasing temperature, more water vapor is required to
increase relative humidity values to 100% at higher temperatures (or
to get the temperature to fall to the dew point). Periods of
warmth quicken the pace of fruit and vegetable production,
increase evaporation and transpiration from plants, and worsen
Regional impacts of warm ENSO episodes (El Niño)
See also: El Niño
Drier and hotter weather occurs in parts of the
Amazon River Basin,
Central America during
El Niño events. Winters during
El Niño are warmer and drier than average conditions in the
Northwest, northern Midwest, and northern Mideast United States, so
those regions experience reduced snowfalls. Conditions are also drier
than normal from December to February in south-central Africa, mainly
in Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Botswana. Direct effects of El
Niño resulting in drier conditions occur in parts of Southeast Asia
and Northern Australia, increasing bush fires, worsening haze, and
decreasing air quality dramatically. Drier-than-normal conditions are
also in general observed in Queensland, inland Victoria, inland New
South Wales, and eastern
Tasmania from June to August. As warm water
spreads from the west Pacific and the
Indian Ocean to the east
Pacific, it causes extensive drought in the western Pacific. Singapore
experienced the driest February in 2014 since records began in 1869,
with only 6.3 mm of rain falling in the month and temperatures
hitting as high as 35 °C on 26 February. The years 1968 and 2005
had the next driest Februaries, when 8.4 mm of rain fell.
Erosion and human activities
See also: Aeolian processes
Human activity can directly trigger exacerbating factors such as over
farming, excessive irrigation, deforestation, and erosion
adversely impact the ability of the land to capture and hold
water. In arid climates, the main source of erosion is wind.
Erosion can be the result of material movement by the wind. The wind
can cause small particles to be lifted and therefore moved to another
region (deflation). Suspended particles within the wind may impact on
solid objects causing erosion by abrasion (ecological succession).
Wind erosion generally occurs in areas with little or no vegetation,
often in areas where there is insufficient rainfall to support
Fields outside Benambra, Victoria,
Australia suffering from drought
Loess is a homogeneous, typically nonstratified, porous, friable,
slightly coherent, often calcareous, fine-grained, silty, pale yellow
or buff, windblown (Aeolian) sediment. It generally occurs as a
widespread blanket deposit that covers areas of hundreds of square
kilometers and tens of meters thick.
Loess often stands in either
steep or vertical faces.
Loess tends to develop into highly rich
soils. Under appropriate climatic conditions, areas with loess are
among the most agriculturally productive in the world. Loess
deposits are geologically unstable by nature, and will erode very
readily. Therefore, windbreaks (such as big trees and bushes) are
often planted by farmers to reduce the wind erosion of loess. Wind
erosion is much more severe in arid areas and during times of drought.
For example, in the Great Plains, it is estimated that soil loss due
to wind erosion can be as much as 6100 times greater in drought years
than in wet years.
See also: Climate change
Activities resulting in global climate change are expected to trigger
droughts with a substantial impact on agriculture throughout
the world, and especially in developing nations. Overall,
global warming will result in increased world rainfall. Along with
drought in some areas, flooding and erosion will increase in others.
Paradoxically, some proposed solutions to global warming that focus on
more active techniques, solar radiation management through the use of
a space sunshade for one, may also carry with them increased chances
As a drought persists, the conditions surrounding it gradually worsen
and its impact on the local population gradually increases. People
tend to define droughts in three main ways: 
Meteorological drought is brought about when there is a prolonged time
with less than average precipitation. Meteorological drought usually
precedes the other kinds of drought.
Agricultural droughts affect crop production or the ecology of the
range. This condition can also arise independently from any change in
precipitation levels when soil conditions and erosion triggered by
poorly planned agricultural endeavors cause a shortfall in water
available to the crops. However, in a traditional drought, it is
caused by an extended period of below average precipitation.
Hydrological drought is brought about when the water reserves
available in sources such as aquifers, lakes and reservoirs fall below
the statistical average. Hydrological drought tends to show up more
slowly because it involves stored water that is used but not
replenished. Like an agricultural drought, this can be triggered by
more than just a loss of rainfall. For instance, around 2007
Kazakhstan was awarded a large amount of money by the
World Bank to
restore water that had been diverted to other nations from the Aral
Sea under Soviet rule. Similar circumstances also place their
largest lake, Balkhash, at risk of completely drying out.
Consequences of drought
Mongolian gazelle dead due to drought.
One can divide the effects of droughts and water shortages into three
groups: environmental, economic and social.
In the case of environmental effects: lower surface and subterranean
water-levels, lower flow-levels (with a decrease below the minimum
leading to direct danger for amphibian life), increased pollution of
surface water, the drying out of wetlands, more and larger fires,
higher deflation intensity, loss of biodiversity, worse health of
trees and the appearance of pests and dendroid diseases.
Economic losses include lower agricultural, forests, game and fishing
output, higher food-production costs, lower energy-production levels
in hydro plants, losses caused by depleted water tourism and transport
revenue, problems with water supply for the energy sector and for
technological processes in metallurgy, mining, the chemical, paper,
wood, foodstuff industries etc., disruption of water supplies for
Social costs include the negative effect on the health of people
directly exposed to this phenomenon (excessive heat waves), possible
limitation of water supplies, increased pollution levels, high
food-costs, stress caused by failed harvests, etc. This explains why
droughts and fresh water shortages operate as a factor which increases
the gap between developed and developing countries.
Effects vary according to vulnerability. For example, subsistence
farmers are more likely to migrate during drought because they do not
have alternative food-sources. Areas with populations that depend on
water sources as a major food-source are more vulnerable to famine.
Drought can also reduce water quality, because lower
water-flows reduce dilution of pollutants and increase contamination
of remaining water-sources. Common consequences of drought include:
Diminished crop growth or yield productions and carrying capacity for
Dust bowls, themselves a sign of erosion, which further erode the
Dust storms, when drought hits an area suffering from desertification
Famine due to lack of water for irrigation
Habitat damage, affecting both terrestrial and aquatic wildlife
Hunger – drought provides too little water to support food crops.
Malnutrition, dehydration and related diseases
Mass migration, resulting in internal displacement and international
Reduced electricity production due to reduced water-flow through
Shortages of water for industrial users
Snake migration, which results in snake-bites
War over natural resources, including water and food
Wildfires, such as Australian bushfires, become more common during
times of drought and may cause human deaths.
Exposure and oxidation of acid sulfate soils due to falling surface-
and ground-water levels.
Cyanotoxin accumulation within food chains and water supply (some of
which are among the most potent toxins known to science) can cause
cancer with low exposure over the long term. High levels of
microcystin appeared in
San Francisco Bay Area
San Francisco Bay Area salt-water shellfish
and fresh-water supplies throughout the state of California in 2016.
Drought is a normal, recurring feature of the climate in most parts of
the world. It is among the earliest documented climatic events,
present in the
Epic of Gilgamesh
Epic of Gilgamesh and tied to the biblical story of
Joseph's arrival in and the later Exodus from Ancient Egypt.
Hunter-gatherer migrations in 9,500 BC
Chile have been linked to the
phenomenon, as has the exodus of early humans out of Africa and
into the rest of the world around 135,000 years ago.
A South Dakota farm during the Dust Bowl, 1936
Main article: List of droughts
Well-known historical droughts include:
India killing between 250,000 and 3.25 million.
Soviet Union in which over 5 million perished from
starvation due to drought
China resulting in over 3 million deaths by
1936 and 1941 Sichuan Province
China resulting in 5 million and 2.5
million deaths respectively.
The 1997–2009 Millennium
Australia led to a water supply
crisis across much of the country. As a result, many desalination
plants were built for the first time (see list).
In 2006, Sichuan Province
China experienced its worst drought in
modern times with nearly 8 million people and over 7 million cattle
facing water shortages.
12-year drought that was devastating southwest Western Australia,
southeast South Australia, Victoria and northern
Tasmania was "very
severe and without historical precedent".
Affected areas in the western
Sahel belt during the 2012 drought.
The Darfur conflict in Sudan, also affecting Chad, was fueled by
decades of drought; combination of drought, desertification and
overpopulation are among the causes of the Darfur conflict, because
Baggara nomads searching for water have to take their
livestock further south, to land mainly occupied by non-
Approximately 2.4 billion people live in the drainage basin of
the Himalayan rivers. India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal
Myanmar could experience floods followed by droughts in coming
India affecting the Ganges is of particular
concern, as it provides drinking water and agricultural irrigation for
more than 500 million people. The west coast of North
America, which gets much of its water from glaciers in mountain ranges
such as the
Rocky Mountains and Sierra Nevada, also would be
Drought affected area in Karnataka,
India in 2012.
In 2005, parts of the
Amazon basin experienced the worst drought in
100 years. A 23 July 2006 article reported Woods Hole Research
Center results showing that the forest in its present form could
survive only three years of drought. Scientists at the
National Institute of Amazonian Research
National Institute of Amazonian Research argue in the
article that this drought response, coupled with the effects of
deforestation on regional climate, are pushing the rainforest towards
a "tipping point" where it would irreversibly start to die. It
concludes that the rainforest is on the brink of being turned into
savanna or desert, with catastrophic consequences for the world's
climate. According to the WWF, the combination of climate change and
deforestation increases the drying effect of dead trees that fuels
Chad in a 2001 satellite image. The lake has shrunk by 95% since
By far the largest part of
Australia is desert or semi-arid lands
commonly known as the outback. A 2005 study by Australian and American
researchers investigated the desertification of the interior, and
suggested that one explanation was related to human settlers who
arrived about 50,000 years ago. Regular burning by these settlers
could have prevented monsoons from reaching interior Australia. In
June 2008 it became known that an expert panel had warned of long
term, maybe irreversible, severe ecological damage for the whole
Murray-Darling basin if it did not receive sufficient water by October
Australia could experience more severe droughts and they
could become more frequent in the future, a government-commissioned
report said on July 6, 2008. Australian environmentalist Tim
Flannery, predicted that unless it made drastic changes, Perth in
Australia could become the world’s first ghost metropolis,
an abandoned city with no more water to sustain its population.
The long Australian Millennial drought broke in 2010.
Recurring droughts leading to desertification in
East Africa have
created grave ecological catastrophes, prompting food shortages in
1984–85, 2006 and 2011. During the 2011 drought, an estimated
50,000 to 150,000 people were reported to have died, though these
figures and the extent of the crisis are disputed. In February
2012, the UN announced that the crisis was over due to a scaling up of
relief efforts and a bumper harvest. Aid agencies subsequently
shifted their emphasis to recovery efforts, including digging
irrigation canals and distributing plant seeds.
In 2012, a severe drought struck the western Sahel. The Methodist
Relief & Development Fund (MRDF) reported that more than 10
million people in the region were at risk of famine due to a
month-long heat wave that was hovering over Niger, Mali, Mauritania
and Burkina Faso. A fund of about £20,000 was distributed to the
Protection, mitigation and relief
Succulent plants are well-adapted to survive long periods of drought.
Water distribution on
Marshall Islands during El Niño.
Agriculturally, people can effectively mitigate much of the impact of
drought through irrigation and crop rotation. Failure to develop
adequate drought mitigation strategies carries a grave human cost in
the modern era, exacerbated by ever-increasing population densities.
President Roosevelt on April 27, 1935, signed documents creating the
Soil Conservation Service (SCS)—now the Natural Resources
Conservation Service (NRCS). Models of the law were sent to each state
where they were enacted. These were the first enduring practical
programs to curtail future susceptibility to drought, creating
agencies that first began to stress soil conservation measures to
protect farm lands today. It was not until the 1950s that there was an
importance placed on water conservation was put into the existing laws
Aerosols over the Amazon each September for four burning seasons (2005
through 2008) during the
Amazon basin drought. The aerosol scale
(yellow to dark reddish-brown) indicates the relative amount of
particles that absorb sunlight.
Strategies for drought protection, mitigation or relief include:
Dams – many dams and their associated reservoirs supply additional
water in times of drought.
Cloud seeding – a form of intentional weather modification to induce
rainfall. This remains a hotly debated topic, as the United States
National Research Council released a report in 2004 stating that to
date, there is still no convincing scientific proof of the efficacy of
intentional weather modification.
Desalination – of sea water for irrigation or consumption.
Drought monitoring – Continuous observation of rainfall levels and
comparisons with current usage levels can help prevent man-made
drought. For instance, analysis of water usage in
Yemen has revealed
that their water table (underground water level) is put at grave risk
by over-use to fertilize their
Khat crop. Careful monitoring of
moisture levels can also help predict increased risk for wildfires,
using such metrics as the Keetch-Byram
Drought Index or Palmer
Land use – Carefully planned crop rotation can help to minimize
erosion and allow farmers to plant less water-dependent crops in drier
Outdoor water-use restriction – Regulating the use of sprinklers,
hoses or buckets on outdoor plants, filling pools, and other
water-intensive home maintenance tasks.
Xeriscaping yards can
significantly reduce unnecessary water use by residents of towns and
Rainwater harvesting – Collection and storage of rainwater from
roofs or other suitable catchments.
Recycled water – Former wastewater (sewage) that has been treated
and purified for reuse.
Transvasement – Building canals or redirecting rivers as massive
attempts at irrigation in drought-prone areas.
Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed
Permanent wilting point
United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
World Water Day
World Water Forum
Exceptional Circumstances relief payments
Maya civilization collapse
Russia and USSR
US dust bowl drought (1930s)
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on the earth’s surface is not even. Some places have lots of fresh
water (rivers, lakes, lagoons, ponds etc.) and are continuously
replenished by rainfall, runoffs and water from underground. Others
places too are known to have very little water. Therefore, if a region
that has lots of rainfall, goes for a couple of weeks without rains,
and people, animals and plants begin to experience a bit of dryness,
it can be called drought. At the same time, that condition may be very
normal for places with no water, and can go for months without any
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From Our Own Correspondent on khat water usage
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Drought.
Look up drought in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikibooks has more on the topic of: Drought
GIDMaPS Global Integrated
Drought Monitoring and Prediction System,
University of California, Irvine
Water scarcity from FAO Water (Food and
Agriculture Organization of
the United Nations)
Drought: Hearing before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources,
United States Senate, One Hundred Thirteenth Congress, First Session,
on Exploring the Effects of
Drought on Energy And Water Management,
April 25, 2013
U.S. Billion-dollar Weather and Climate Disasters
Drought Media Monitoring
Prokurat S., "
Drought and water shortages in Asia as a threat and
economic problem", in: "Journal of Modern Science", 3/26/2015,
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Scientists opposing the mainstream assessment
Climate change denial
Global warming conspiracy theory
By country & region
Clean Power Plan
Climate change denial
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
March for Science
People's Climate March
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC / FCCC)
Global climate regime
Potential effects and issues
Abrupt climate change
Arctic dipole anomaly
Arctic methane release
Climate change and agriculture
Climate change and ecosystems
Climate change and gender
Climate change and poverty
Current sea level rise
Economics of global warming
Effect on plant biodiversity
Effects on health
Effects on humans
Effects on marine mammals
Extinction risk from global warming
Fisheries and climate change
Industry and society
Polar stratospheric cloud
Retreat of glaciers since 1850
Runaway climate change
Shutdown of thermohaline circulation
Clean Development Mechanism
Bali Road Map
2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference
European Climate Change Programme
G8 Climate Change Roundtable
United Kingdom Climate Change Programme
United States withdrawal
Regional climate change initiatives in the United States
List of climate change initiatives
Carbon capture and storage
Efficient energy use
Individual action on climate change
Carbon dioxide removal
Climate change mitigation scenarios
Individual and political action on climate change
Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation
Climate Action Plan
Damming glacial lakes
Avoiding dangerous climate change
Land allocation decision support system
Glossary of climate change
Index of climate change articles
Fast radio burst
Cosmic rays (Ultra-high-energy cosmic ray)
Solar proton event
Coronal mass ejection
Tidal disruption event
Heat death of the universe
False vacuum metastability event
by death toll
(by death toll)
Structural failures and collapses
by death toll
Mast and tower
Wars and anthropogenic disasters
Battles and other violent events
Emergency population warning
Emergency Alert System
Earthquake warning system
Disaster risk reduction
Global Risk Forum GRF Davos
International Association of Emergency Managers
Disaster and Risk Conference
Disaster Accountability Project
Disaster Emergency Service