A global drought risk information system

  • 2018•05•29     Bonn

    © UNU-EHS / Yvonne Walz

    Droughts, commonly described as a severe lack of water compared to normal conditions, can have devastating impacts on communities, ecosystems and economies. In addition to leading to shortages of drinking water, droughts negatively affect crops and harvests, which can have further effects on food security and agricultural livelihoods. As a result of climate change, it is likely that droughts will become more frequent and more extreme over the next decades, posing a potential threat to sustainable development in many parts of the world.

    The goal of the GlobeDrought project is to develop methods and tools for characterizing, assessing and evaluating the risk of negative impacts of different types of droughts on water resources, agricultural systems and food security. The global-scale assessment will be supplemented by detailed analyses for selected case study regions affected by droughts, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, eastern Brazil, western India, and the Missouri River Basin of the United States. A drought information system will be developed to enable policy-makers and international humanitarian actors to identify and evaluate drivers and hotspots of drought risk and to use that information for the planning of preventive drought risk reduction, risk transfer or adaptation measures, such as the use of drought resistant crops, nature-based solutions to increase natural water storage capacity, or the implementation of drought risk insurance schemes.

    “While there has been a boost in the number of drought risk assessments over the past 15 years, a number of knowledge gaps and challenges regarding the assessment and management of drought risk persist. Too often assessments tend to be hazard-focused and do not systematically consider the role of socioeconomic, political or environmental factors that are key in explaining the impacts of droughts”, said Dr. Michael Hagenlocher, Senior Scientist and project manager at UNU-EHS. “The GlobeDrought project provides a great opportunity to close some of these gaps and generate knowledge-based solutions on how to characterize, assess and ultimately manage drought risk in the 21st century”.

    The development of such a global system is complex and requires inputs from drought experts across all areas and sectors: practitioners, policy-makers, international organizations, and academic experts. UNU-EHS recently hosted the first Stakeholder/Expert workshop where 38 experts came together to discuss how different types of drought hazards combined with prevailing vulnerabilities can lead to negative impacts on agricultural systems, water supply, food security and energy production, and how such information could be made available in a drought information system that is understandable and actionable to support the planning of drought risk reduction, coping and adaptation strategies.

    “For the success of this project it is crucial that we consult with experts across all fields and all geographic regions that we are targeting”, said Prof. Siebert, project coordinator of GlobeDrought at the University of Göttingen. “Our goal is a global system because when you think for example of rising food prices caused by a drought event in major crop production regions, you can see that droughts are truly a global challenge”.

    Prof. Sara Feresu, Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Zimbabwe, sees the potential of the Globedrought project in its aim to take into consideration countries of different economic power and development. “Many times when models are developed they are based on data from developed countries or emerging economies because data is more readily available there. But we need solutions that apply to developing countries, too, because the impacts of drought are particularly severe in vulnerable countries such as Zimbabwe”.

    Within the project, UNU-EHS is developing novel concepts and methods for assessing drought vulnerability and risk and also leads the capacity building and knowledge-sharing element of the project.

    The GlobeDrought project is a three year project (2017-2020) funded by the German Federal Ministry of Research and Education (BMBF). Further information on the project is provided on the project website: http://grow-globedrought.net.