13 Facts About Droughts
Drought refers to a long period when rainfall is deficient. It can take place anywhere in the world. Droughts result in water supply running low. They can have many ill effects. Droughts can harm agriculture, our health, and the environment.
Droughts can last for any amount of time. They range from a few days to a few months or even years. Droughts affect almost 55 million people every year. In recent years, droughts have also increased due to global warming. Let us learn more about what droughts are, what causes them, and other essential facts.
What is a drought?
A drought is a continuous period of dry weather. During this time, an area receives less rain than usual. It can happen over months or years. It is a natural disaster.
Droughts also cause natural water reservoirs to dry up. This includes rivers, lakes, and groundwater reserves. They also lead to crop failure and famine. Droughts cause hardship and death for everyone. They affect all the humans, fauna, and flora found around.
What are the types of droughts?
There are five broad types of droughts. These are meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, ecological, and socioeconomic. They’re based on the various reasons behind droughts. Scientists use these categories to track and study droughts around the world.
What causes a drought?
As seen, droughts can occur due to five major reasons. First, meteorological droughts result from dry weather patterns dominating an area. They depend on the degree of dryness compared to an average amount. They are region-specific. This is because air conditions vary a lot from one place to another.
Water supply running short in a region can cause hydrological droughts. They can get linked to the effects of low rain on water systems in an area. This includes surface water and subsurface or groundwater supplies.
Agricultural drought refers to an area stricken by crop failure. This often happens due to no irrigation. It can lead to famine-like conditions in an area. Ecological droughts happen when entire ecosystems get affected by dry weather. They can disturb the natural balance of the environment.
Finally, socioeconomic droughts affect humans the most. They occur when the trade of essential goods declines due to a drought. This can cause variations in supply and demand in the market. It can also increase the price of these goods. Water, food grains, fish, and hydroelectric power are usually the affected goods.
What makes droughts dangerous?
Droughts are dangerous because their effects are far-reaching and long-lasting. The immediate results of a drought are extreme weather conditions. In addition, a shortage of water supply can cause problems in day-to-day life. Lack of drinking water can cause large-scale dehydration. Sometimes no water is available for growing plants. This causes crop failure and can lead to acute food shortages.
Droughts affect the locals and can also strain the global supply system. This leads to famines and high costs of specific products. And without water or healthy plants, the entire food chain begins to crumble. This has harmful effects on animals and birds living in the area. Droughts can even cause the extinction of certain species.
What can we do about droughts?
Droughts are an example of a natural disaster. But we can still take steps to protect ourselves. At an individual level, we should not overuse water. Water conservation also goes a long way. This includes reasonable use of water and rainwater harvesting.
Also Read: What Causes Rain?
We can also help in the prevention of droughts. First, we need to change farming practices and watering patterns in at-risk areas. Stopping trees from getting cut down is also the right step. A healthy forest cover is essential for the water cycle. Trees also prevent soil erosion, preventing famines during droughts. Finally, spreading awareness about droughts is also necessary.
13 Facts About Droughts
- It is tough to say what a drought exactly is. In the early 1980s, there were more than 150 different definitions of ‘drought’! This is due to cultural differences around the world.
- A megadrought is a drought that lasts more than twenty years! Some can even last for centuries. There might be a few years when an area recovers and receives rain. But regions under megadroughts generally remain dry for many decades.
- Megadroughts have also caused the fall of several ancient empires – for example, the Khmer Empire in Mexico and the Yuan dynasty in China. Both of these kingdoms declined due to acute megadroughts.
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- Droughts are almost always followed by mass migration. This refers to many people leaving the area in search of better conditions. This can cause entire cities and ecosystems to collapse. Research has found that droughts displace more people than even floods.
- The western United States has been in a megadrought since the year 2000! Scientists have described it as the worst drought in America in the past 1200 years. One of its effects is the erratic forest fires spreading in the area in the past years.
- The longest drought in the world has lasted over 400 years! The Atacama Desert has been in continuous drought since at least the 1600s. It is also known as the driest place on Earth. It hasn’t received any rainfall in the last four centuries.
- The worst drought to hit the United States was the Dust Bowl drought. It took place in the 1930s. This period saw many severe dust storms across the Great Plains. But it was a man-made disaster. The droughts resulted from years of continuous farming without proper water use. This left the soil dry and lifeless. Strong winds eroded the ground and converted it into dangerous dust storms. Thousands of people died from starving or from inhaling the dust. The Dust Bowl was also a significant contributor to the Great Depression.
- One infamous storm during the Dust Bowl was Black Sunday. It was a collection of twenty ‘black blizzards’. They spread through the Plains on April 14, 1935. The event is so-called since it covered many cities in black dust clouds. People were unable even to see the sky. The storms turned day into night. It is also what prompted a journalist to coin the term ‘Dust Bowl’ for the first time.
Also Read: Types of Storms – Which Storm is Most Dangerous
- The Dust Bowl caused a massive outbreak of several diseases. The dusty winds spread measles and influenza in the Great Plains. It was also responsible for a fungal disease outbreak. People called it the Valley Fever. This was after the soil fungus causing the disease found in the San Joaquin Valley in the 1930s. These diseases were fatal for a population already weakened by a lack of food.
- Droughts were also the reason for the first migration of early humans. Scientists have discovered that modern humans first evolved in Africa. But a series of megadroughts about 135 thousand years ago caused them to leave the continent. This search for better habitats distributed them around the world.
- Northern China experienced the worst drought in human history for three years. Between 1876 and 1879, rains failed year after year. This resulted in a famine that killed an estimated 13 million people. At the same time, another drought-induced famine was ravaging India under British rule. It led to roughly 8 million deaths.
- Scientists study and compare historical droughts using tree rings! Tree rings are wider during favorable growth and narrower during times of drought. This field of science is also called dendroclimatology.
- One of the major causes for the increasing number of droughts in recent years is global warming. Climate change affects rates of rainfall and how fast water evaporates. This affects the severity and frequency of droughts globally. Using tree ring dating, researchers discovered climate change-induced droughts even in the 1900s.
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As we’ve seen, droughts are dangerous natural disasters. They generally occur due to low rainfall rates. They are also affected by climate change. As a result, droughts cause much harm to humans, plants, and animals.
Some of the worst droughts in human history have resulted in death and destruction. Therefore, we need to take steps to stop global warming. This can prevent severe droughts in the coming years.