Scientific studies estimate that the land area under drought conditions rose from 10 to 15 percent in the early 1970s to more than 30 percent in the early 2000s, and that these numbers will continue to rise.
Although droughts happen everywhere, Africa appears to be the worst hit continent. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), two-thirds of Africa's lands are desert or arid lands.
The challenge is enormous for the second largest continent on the planet, with 1,200 million inhabitants distributed in 54 countries and which was the region most affected in 2015-2016 by the climatological phenomenon known as El Niño.
“Worldwide, droughts are becoming more serious, with greater frequency, longer duration and spatial extension. Its impact is growing, and includes massive human displacement and migration. The current drought is evidence, ”said Daniel Tsegai, an official of the UNCCD, at the Conference on Drought in Africa that takes place in Windhoek until Friday 19, organized by the agency and the government of Namibia.
The conference emphasizes the so-called “resilience to drought”.
"Resilience to drought is simply defined as the ability of a country to survive consecutive droughts and to be able to recover the previous conditions," explained Tsegai, speaking with IPS.
"To begin with, there are four aspects to drought, the meteorological (climate), the hydrological (surface water), the agricultural (cultivation) and the socioeconomic (the consequences for human beings)," he said.
The big five "absent"
For Tsegai, the main obstacles to achieving resilience to drought in Africa are:
a) The lack of an adequate database that includes the climate, water resources - surface and underground -, soil moisture, as well as incidences of past droughts and their impacts.
b) Poor coordination between the various sectors and relevant actors in a country and between countries in a region.
c) The low level of capacity to apply measures to reduce the risk of drought, especially at the local level.
d) Lack of political will to implement national drought policies.
e) The economic element of drought preparedness is not well investigated.
Regarding the objectives of the UNCCD, Tsegai explained that it seeks to improve the productivity of the land, restore or preserve it to establish a more efficient use of water and improve the living conditions of populations affected by drought and desertification.
The official outlined some of the strategies that can be adopted to increase resilience to drought. First, a paradigm shift in the way of dealing with the problem. We must change the way we think about drought, he added.
"The drought is no longer an isolated event and not even a‘ crisis. " It will be more frequent, severe and of a longer duration. It is a constant risk, ”Tsegai said.
“Therefore, we have to stop being reactive and be proactive, move from a crisis management approach to risk management, from a fragmented approach to a more coordinated / integrated one. Treating the drought as a crisis involves dealing with the symptoms… and not the causes, ”he warned.
"In short, the way forward is the development of a national drought (policy) based on the principles of risk reduction," he recommended.
Second, it is necessary to strengthen the drought control and early warning systems. It is also important to assess the vulnerability of the country to the phenomenon and carry out risk profiles: who will be affected, in what areas and what will be the impacts.
The implementation of risk reduction measures includes the development of sustainable irrigation systems for crops and livestock, the monitoring and measurement of water supply and its uses, the recycling and reuse of water, and the possibility of cultivating more tolerant to drought and expanded crop insurance.
The big five options
Tsegai expects five results from the Windhoek conference:
A common strategy document at the African level to strengthen the continent's drought preparedness, which can be applied and shared among countries.
That it leads to the development of integrated national policies aimed at building societies that are more resilient to drought, based on the sustainable use and management of natural resources - land, forests, biodiversity, water, energy, etc.
Countries are expected to agree on a protocol that is binding and will be presented at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in 2017, for approval at the African Union (AU) summit.
The results of the conference will be presented to the rulers of the AU for their support.
Furthermore, the conference is expected to strengthen alliances and South-South cooperation, to support the development of national policies and the improvement of existing ones on drought management.
Translated by Álvaro Queiruga