Types Of Drought And Its Effects On The Sub-Saharan Countries

Drought is one of the most common disasters which can undermine livelihoods and well-being despite the use of various mitigation strategies. Therefore, drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation), surface water or ground water. Drought is a stochastic and recurring natural hazard that has costly and devastating impacts on surface and groundwater supplies, crop production, ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region and harm to the local economy. Drought is one of the most common disasters which can undermine livelihoods and well-being despite the use of various mitigation strategies. Therefore, the focus of this essay is to state and explain the types of droughts that include meteorological, hydrological, agricultural and socio-economic drought. Furthermore, the essay sort to show how droughts hinder development processes, looking on the consequences brought by droughts which affect the sub-Saharan countries economically, socially and politically, thereby rising of barriers that hinder development processes of countries

Agricultural drought refers to circumstances when soil moisture is insufficient and results in the lack of crop growth and production. It primarily concerns itself with short-term drought situations. Agriculture can rebound or be impaired within a very short period of time depending upon the strength of drought conditions or precipitation event. An agricultural drought is considered to have set in when the soil moisture availability to plants has dropped to such a level that it adversely affects the crop yield and hence agricultural profitability. In brief, the definition of agricultural drought is concerned with the soil moisture deficiency in relation to meteorological droughts and climatic factors and their impacts on agricultural production and economic profitability. A soil water time series provides the framework for evaluating agricultural drought parameters. Soil moisture measurements are generally not available as time series. Hence agricultural drought could be better studied by means of a regional analysis involving a set of variables associated with the crop water consumption process, but the interactions are very complex. Maracchi (2000) noted that the interaction between climatic conditions and some other factors (e.g. increasing water consumption, variation in land use or low efficiency in the use of water) that lead to a strong decrease in agricultural production or to a worsening of product quality is the key indicator of agricultural drought. In this sense, agricultural drought is something broader than climatic drought, because the former can be due to different factors rather than just environmental condition.

Drought is a complex natural hazard that impacts ecosystems and society in many ways. Many of these impacts are associated with hydrological drought (drought in rivers, lakes, and groundwater).Therefore hydrological drought as another type of drought refers to a lack of water in the hydrological system, manifesting itself in abnormally low streamflow in rivers and abnormally low levels in lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater. It is part of the bigger drought phenomenon that denotes a recurrent natural hazard. Hydrological extremes (floods and hydrological droughts) are natural hazards that are not confined to specific regions, but occur worldwide and, therefore, impact a very large number of people. Hydrological droughts can, however, cover extensive areas and can last for months to years, with devastating impacts on the ecological system and many economic sectors. Examples of affected sectors are drinking water supply, crop production (irrigation), waterborne transportation, electricity production (hydropower or cooling water), and recreation (water quality). The ecosystem impacts of drought differ between terrestrial ecosystems, in which droughts influence tree mortality due to wild fires, and aquatic ecosystems, where they affect e.g., species composition, population density, and food web structure.17They classified hydrological droughts based on their causing factors and propagation processes into classical rainfall deficit drought, rain-to-snow-season drought, wet-to-dry-season drought, cold snow season drought, warm snow season drought, snowmelt drought, glaciermelt drought, and composite drought

Meteorological drought is explained on the basis of the extent of dryness, in relation to the normal or average amount of rain? and the duration of dry periods. The meteorological drought should be seen as region-specific as the atmospheric conditions that bring in shortage of rain vary profoundly in different regions. Hot weather and extreme sunny days are prominent characteristics of meteorological drought. In regions with all-year precipitation and a moist climate such as in England, Brazil and some of the states in the United States of America, this type of drought is measured by number of days. In areas such as Australia, West Africa and India drought is measured over longer periods of time, as the lack of rainfall in these countries is seen as normal.

Socio-economic definitions of drought associate the supply and demand of some economic goods with elements of meteorological, hydrological and agricultural drought. It varies from other types of drought because its existence relies on the process of supply and demand. The weather is responsible for supply of economic goods such as water, fish, forage, food grains and hydroelectric power. Because of climate change, the water supply is not as consistent as in some years and it is found to be insufficient to meet human and environmental needs. Weather-related shortfalls in water supply result in economic goods requirements that exceed the supply. Drought may cause reduced hydroelectric power production, as power plants rely on streamflow for power generation. The absence of hydroelectric power production will put strain on government to change to more expensive petroleum alternatives and to put restriction orders on energy conservation in order to meet the demand for power. The rapid population increase leads to high demands for economic development. Increased production efficiency may be triggered by an increase in the supply. Supply and demand increase their relative rate of change; therefore, the socio-economic type of drought is promoted when the demand for water in economic activities far surpasses the supply.

South Africa has experienced frequent drought in recent decades. Around 1992 and 1993 the major impacts were felt as maize had to be imported into the country. The country did not have enough maize and the effect of drought events led to crop failure, which was noticed. Many people fled their rural places to the urban areas; this resulted in closure of farms and farm labour lay-offs as well as increased agricultural debts. The effects of drought can bring about undesirable consequences on agriculture as an industry which in set of circumstance may hinder development processes.Food insecurity one of the contributing factor is defined as incapability of people to access adequate healthy food for their needs. Many South African people are plagued by continued food insecurity that leads to malnutrition and unemployment where about 14.3 million being vulnerable at any given time. There are many compounding issues that led to food insecurity in South Africa which were worsened by the drought and increased people’s vulnerability. The data on food insecurity from 1999 to 2008, shows the drastic drop in food insecurity from. The scenario from the data is changed presently as the result of El Niño event that has plagued South Africa since 2014. The event has brought drought leading to a rise in food insecurity among societies.

Water shortage is the main consequence which hinders the development processes. The maize farming industry needs enough water for growing; if there is a shortage of water this results in high food prices. The prices on basic food will increase, especially for maize meal, stamp, wheat, vegetables, chicken and beef as stated by Agri SA. Maize, vegetables and meat production are seen as the worst hit by drought and are the staple foods for most South Africans. Drought has affected the country to the extent that the farmers had to increase the number of livestock to be slaughtered as it was taxing to feed the cattle. The monthly survey done by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action has indicated a price increase over a three-month period with an all-time high of 15% per basket of 36 kinds of basic foods. The rise of prices during periods of drought leads to malnutrition and hunger on the side of the low-income groups whose financial standing is low to afford escalating food prices. The rising food prices, coupled with 16,6% rise in electricity tariffs, the rise in water tariffs, interest rates, and the high level of indebtedness may impact disastrous to the South African society. The Government’s intervention should control the price fluctuations, as this is frequently done in the developed countries due to fluctuating agricultural markets.

Malawi is one of the countries which is highly exposed to natural disasters, such droughts. Available records indicate that in the last 100 years, the country has experienced about 20 droughts. The drought hit Malawi at a time when the country’s economy was particularly vulnerable due to consecutive effects of the 2015/2016 drought. The cumulative impact of drought directly related to GDP is estimated at USD 295.2 million, which is equal to 5.6 percent of Malawi’s GDP. Agriculture has by far been the hardest hit sector experiencing the largest economic cost due to a significant loss in crop production. The second most affected sectors, electricity and water, experienced an 8.0 percent loss, which is equivalent to MWK 9,286 million (USD 13.3 million).Thereby the scarcity of electricity seemed to be another contributing factor that hinder development in Malawi as it pose the difficulties in the operation of industries due to power shortages.

As a supply shock to Malawi’s predominately agrarian economy, the drought drove up food prices notably for maize resulting in food price inflation. The overall inflation remained high during 2016, mainly driven by food price inflation. Non-food inflation is likely to be indirectly affected through a possible exchange rate depreciation and higher public domestic borrowing. In order to finance immediate food purchases, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has allowed the government augmented access to borrow beyond program limits. Inflation can also disturb development processes it pose strains within government sector concerning budgets, lack of efficient budget could be the seen as a barrier in the development of other process which boost the economy of the country.

Malawi’s trade balance is expected to deteriorate due to a moderate decrease in exports as a result of the fall in agricultural output owing to the drought, combined with an increase in food imports for recovery. Export volumes are expected to moderately decline as a result of the drought following the decline in agricultural output during the 2015-16 growing season. Thereby the disturbance in trade activities is one of the main factor which leads to shortage of foreign currency which may be useful in other sectors that boost development like industry Farm and non-farm livelihoods have been severely disrupted and are expected to be further affected in the coming months. There has been a notable increase in the vulnerability to food security and general decline in living conditions at household and community levels associated with significant crop losses, notably maize. Drought induced food shortages have also affected children and youth, primarily disrupting their education cycle. Therefore disruption in the education system could be also another contributing factor as it leads to scarcity of skilled labour in industrial sector hence its poor operational. Also the effect of drought over the youth leads to frequent migration thereby the country suffers from scarcity of labour force which is important in the implementation of economic activities such as agriculture.

Droughts have been by far the most significant threat to Zimbabwe compared to other natural disasters with huge economic, environmental and social costs. Agriculture (crop, livestock forestry and fishery), depends heavily on water hence if sub-normal rainfall is received, it may consequently lead to loss in crop yields or livestock production and increase in insect infestations, wind erosion or forest fires which all have serious negative effects on the national economy.

The agricultural sector is usually the first one to be affected by droughts, given its dependence on soil and water, which can be rapidly depleted during extended dry periods. The approximately 80% of the total population which depends on agriculture in Zimbabwe are the ones most susceptible to shocks from drought occurrences. More than half of the population live in rural areas where the general quality of living is low and are less prepared to deal with problems brought about by droughts. Moreover, it’s the children and woman who are most affected as compared to men whom most work in towns. Prolonged dry spells and/or droughts affect other sectors relying on alternative water. Sectors using surface water like lakes and dams and subsurface water are usually the last ones affected. The dryness of the environment due to droughts will also substantially increase the risk of forest fires which compromises the safety of both human and wildlife populations especially in the rural areas again where they are less prepared to deal with such disasters. The veld fires leads to the destruction of the ecosystem thereby disturbing the aesthetic value of the environment, thereby some of the areas are tourist attraction areas however their disturbance might bring problems including lack of foreign currency. Northern Kenya is found to have 70% of households who were dependent on livestock for income, where 67% of the population lives below the poverty line. Drought has depleted household assets and the community’s coping mechanisms. The community of the Kitui district in eastern Kenya has no alternative but to survive in their drought prone area where they are burdened by chronic malnutrition and lack of food resources.


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  2. Rodrimiez-Iturbe, 1. (2000) P.cohydrolonv: a hydrologie perspective of climate-soil-vegelation dvnamics. Water Résout: Res. 36( I ), 3-9
  3. Maracchi, G., Pérarnaud, V., and Kleschenko, A.D. (2000) Applications of Geographical Information Systems and Remote Sensing in Agrometeorology,Special Volume of Agricultural and Forest Meteorology (in press)
09 March 2021
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