Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Dry patches: the world's drought epidemic

  • Written by  Marco Magrini
  • Published in Climate
While plenty of the world saw flooding in 2017, equally plenty of places experienced extreme drought While plenty of the world saw flooding in 2017, equally plenty of places experienced extreme drought Piyaset
29 Nov
2017
Water, water may be everywhere, but as Marco Magrini discovers, it’s not stopping vast swathes of the planet suffering from ever-increasing drought conditions

As 2017 is coming to an end, you may be tempted to call it Year of the Hurricanes. However, a slower and more silent phenomenon could be better awarded with such a title. On the other side of the deluge coin, there is drought.

After a three-year-long dry spell, flames devoured more than a million acres in California, while some of Europe’s most parched spots, particularly in Portugal, were reduced to ash. Seventeen African countries, from Angola to Tanzania, from Sudan to Malawi, have endured the second consecutive year of drought. Israel is in its fourth, and the arid conditions are crippling its high-tech agriculture.

Repeated droughts are destroying enough farm produce to feed 81 million people, said the World Bank in a recent report, aptly named Uncharted Waters. ‘The 21st century is witnessing the collision of two powerful trends – rising human populations coupled with a changing climate,’ the financial institution argues. It’s no small matter, as the collision could be brutal.

Slightly more than 70 per cent of our planet is covered with water. Yet, 97 per cent of it is salted. Most of the meagre three per cent of freshwater is locked in glaciers. The remaining slice (0.5 per cent) is mostly composed by underground aquifers (equivalent to four trillion Olympic-sized swimming pools), followed by rainfall (47 billion pools), lakes (36 billion), man-made reservoirs (two billion) and rivers (848 million pools). In other words, on a planet awash with water, the water at mankind’s disposal is just a tiny fraction of the total. Meanwhile, mankind has grown to pass the 7.5 billion population mark.

Rain scarcity, the World Bank estimates, is four times more costly than floods. Not to mention its long-term consequences, like cropland expansion into forested areas. Climate change may accelerate this pattern, ‘leading to a harmful cycle where rainfall shocks induce deforestation, thereby increasing carbon dioxide emissions, and, in turn, further exacerbating rainfall extremes.’

Those extremes – downpours and droughts – were predicted by climatologists decades ago. The prediction includes an escalation in weather pattern disruptions, well similar to the ones we have witnessed in 2017. ‘How much worse can it get?’ is the question.

This was published in the December 2017 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe and Save!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Energy

A project in Orkney is converting excess wind energy into…

Geophoto

Mountains provide a dramatic sight at the best of times,…

Wildlife

A surge in reports of dead hares has resulted in…

Oceans

Four scientists have banded together to make the case against the farming of octopuses, arguing…

Climate

As planetary oil consumption hits the 100-million-barrel mark Marco Magrini…

Oceans

A ship that ran aground early in February has been…

Wildlife

Two whale populations on either side of the African continent…

Geophoto

March traditionally heralds the beginning of spring, a time of…

Wildlife

An innovative project to utilise Laos’ elephant experts in service…

Polar

Despite common belief that Antarctica is vastly uninhabited, humans are…

Wildlife

Javan rhinos survived the recent Krakatoa tsunami, but the species…

Energy

As the world turns away from fossil fuels, one question…

Geophoto

The winners of the Outdoor Photographer of the Year 2018…

Climate

New legislation in Florida aims to solve various environmental issues,…

Polar

The world’s magnetic model is getting an early update, as…

Climate

Marco Magrini looks at the financial pressures spilling out into the…

Geophoto

Few sights are more dramatic than a star-filled sky at…

Polar

A region of Antarctica previously known for relative stability is…

Tectonics

Everything we thought we knew about eruptions could be wrong

Oceans

Sea levels are rising across the globe, but along the…