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Element Water: Drought

Drought is the consequence of a natural reduction in the amount of precipitation over an extended period of time, usually a season or more in length, often associated with other climatic factors (such as high temperatures, high winds, and low relative humidity) that can aggravate the severity of the drought event. According to the IMD, there are 4 major types of droughts which are meteorological drought, hydrological drought, agricultural drought and socioeconomic drought.

Droughts impact all strata of living beings by creating drinking water shortage, causing damage to natural vegetation and various ecosystems, increased air and water pollution, and the adverse effect on the environment by increased moisture stress. Droughts also affect society making it more prone to malnutrition, poor hygiene, ill health, migration, increased stress and morbidity and an increase in social strife. These may manifest into a famine, which is described as a large-scale collapse of access to food, which without intervention will lead to mass starvation.

Drought In India

In India, according to the Indian Meteorological Department, meteorological drought over an area is defined as a situation when the seasonal rainfall received over the area is less than 75% of its long-term average value, “Moderate Drought” if rain deficit is between 26-50% and “Severe Drought” when the deficit exceeds 50% of the normal rainfall. A hydrological drought is defined as a period during which the stream flows are inadequate to supply established the use of water under the prevalent water management system. Agricultural Drought, on the other hand, is when available soil moisture is inadequate for healthy crop growth and cause extreme stress and wilting, whilst what happens after a meteorological, hydrological or agricultural drought, i.e how they adversely affect the social fabric of society creating unemployment, migration, discontent and various other problems in society.

Drought From Syria To Belgium

Before the Syrian uprising that began in 2011, the greater Fertile Crescent experienced the most severe drought on instrumental record. For Syria, a country marked by poor governance and unsustainable agricultural and environmental policies, the drought had a catalytic effect, contributing to political unrest. (Kelley et al., 2015)

The drought exacerbated existing water and agricultural insecurity and caused massive agricultural failures and livestock mortality in the region. The most significant consequence was the migration of as many as 1.5 million people from rural farming areas to the peripheries of urban centers. Despite growing water scarcity and frequent droughts, the government of Syria initiated policies to further increase agricultural production, including land redistribution and irrigation projects, quota systems, and subsidies for diesel fuel to garner the support of rural constituents. These policies endangered Syria’s water security by exploiting limited land and water resources without regard for sustainability. The reduced supply of groundwater dramatically increased Syria’s vulnerability to drought. When a severe drought began in 2006/2007, the agricultural system in the northeastern “breadbasket” region, which typically produced over two-thirds of the country’s crop yields, collapsed. In a single year (2008) the cost of wheat, rice and feed had in fact doubled. There was a dramatic increase in nutrition-related diseases among children, and enrollment in schools dropped by as much as 80% as many families left the rural regions. By 2010, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Iraqi refugees made up roughly 20% of Syria’s urban population. The total urban population of Syria in 2002 was 8.9 million but, by the end of 2010, had grown to 13.8 million, a more than 50% increase in only 8 years, a far greater rate than for the Syrian population as a whole.

These unsustainable living conditions, the added excessive pressure from Iraqi refugees, the worst drought in recorded history, the excessive overdependence on rain and finally, terrible unsustainable policies by the administration exacerbated the situation, tipping over the country into a nightmarish civil war, the effects of which can still be felt at home in Syria, and as far as Belgium.

Other Factors

There are various other factors that need to be understood in terms of water scarcity, the policy implications on gender roles, the maladaptation policies in Syria and to an extent, various indices used, cross-boundary issues, multilateral ties, impact of technology, the disruption of ecosystem services. There are many different dimensions of water scarcity and a similar number of narratives which we will cover in the next article.

(The article was originally written by Kartikaye Madhok for the Title: Narratives, Dams and Civil War)

Picture Credits: emaze

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