In 2022, more than 2.3 billion people face water stress and almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts. This is according to a report, Drought In Numbers, released to mark Drought Day on Wednesday May 11, 2022 at the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties at the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), held in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire from May 9 to 20.
A statement from the UNCCD describes the report as an authoritative compendium of drought-related information and data that will help inform negotiations of one of several decisions by UNCCD’s 196 member states, to be issued on 20 May at the conclusion of COP15.
“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, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD.
The report highlights that since 2000, the number and duration of droughts have risen by 29%. From 1970 to 2019, weather, climate and water hazards accounted for 50% of disasters and 45% of disaster-related deaths, mostly in developing countries. Droughts represent 15% of natural disasters but took the largest human toll, approximately 650,000 deaths from 1970-2019. From 1998 to 2017, droughts caused global economic losses of roughly U$124 billion.
If proper action is not taken, the report notes that by 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of being displaced by drought. By 2040, an estimated one in four children will live in areas with extreme water shortages. By 2050, droughts may affect over three-quarters of the world’s population, and an estimated 4.8-5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today. Up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate by 2050, largely due to drought in combination with other factors including water scarcity, declining crop productivity, sea-level rise, and overpopulation.
“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.”
This story was produced as part of the 2022 UNCCD Virtual Reporting Fellowship, a journalism fellowship organized by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Robert Bosch Stiftung. It was originally published in the Nigerian Tribune on 11 May 2022. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Banner image: Drought in Burkina Faso / Credit: Yoda Adaman at Unsplash.