The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UNFAO) has called for coordination among UN organisations and intergovernmental efforts to develop a proactive drought management strategy to assist all countries to improve and solidify their drought policies.
In a report presented at the 14th Conference of the Parties (COP-14) of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification Conference (UNCCD) in Greater Noida, UNFAO explores various policy approaches that can be used to support drought-stricken populations and drought-affected activities, reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience.
"Climate shocks such as floods and drought, combined with poverty and vulnerability, can leave millions trapped in poverty and hunger," said Eduardo Mansur, Director of UNFAO's Land and Water Division.
The report notes that in India, 330 million people were affected by the drought of 2015-16. "Women and children were among the most seriously affected, with increases in wasting among mothers, an increase in child labour and cases of trafficking and child marriages in some of the affected states," it observed.
Through the world, desertification, land degradation and drought are damaging food production, it said, adding that this year's edition of FAO's State of Food Insecurity in the World report indicates that the number of undernourished people in drought-sensitive countries has increased by 45.6 per cent since 2012, and that overall, hunger is on the rise - particularly in drought-prone areas.
"It is time to change drought approaches from crisis to risk management based on prediction, planning and preparedness," Mansur stressed.
At the Drought Preparedness Day - that happened parallel to the UN desertification Conference on September 11 - countries and agencies discussed the ongoing efforts that had been kicked off in 2013 at the High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policies. At the event, the FAO, World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Secretariat of the UNCCD established a proactive drought policy based on three pillars - monitoring, forecasting and early warning, vulnerability and impact assessment and preparedness, mitigation and response.
It acknowledged the role of many international and national institutions in dedicated technology research in dry lands, including the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India, the Brazilian Company for Agricultural Research (Embrapa) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) in Lebanon. However, efforts to strengthen institutions and adopt new technologies usually come after an emergency has already occurred, the report observed.
"Planning for drought must be a sustained responsibility of governments and other stakeholders, and this should include strategies to reduce future vulnerability as well as mechanisms for climate-smart, effective responses," said Mansur.
The report highlights how practices that preserve ecosystems can also benefit drought preparedness. Sustainable land, soil and water management help increase resilience to droughts. Such practices also have other benefits such as capturing carbon, increasing water supply and protecting biodiversity, it states. It also points out that many countries are already adopting good practices, such as establishing integrated production systems that combine forestry and agriculture, or agroforestry-livestock systems that contribute to land use sustainability and increase drought resilience.
The report was developed by FAO in collaboration with UNCCD, WMO, Global Water Partnership and the Integrated Drought Management Programme as contribution to the Global Framework on Water Scarcity in Agriculture (WASAG.)