For the past two years, the rains have been poor in Somalia. What comes next is tragically familiar. Dry wells. Dying livestock. Failed harvests. Migration. Masses of people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. The same is happening in Yemen, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. However, poor rains are not the only water problem that creates havoc. Floods, water-borne diseases, and transboundary water conflicts can all cause severe human suffering and disruptions to political, economic, and environmental systems.
This week, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, or COP21, will gather countries that want to take action for the climate. A central topic of these discussions will focus on the intersection of water and climate change.
Combating climate change is everyone’s business. Reducing emissions and investing in renewable energy, improving city planning and building design standards, developing more efficient transportation, and reducing deforestation (among others) all play key roles in mitigating the effects of climate change. At the same time, countries, and industries, will also need to adapt to changes in the climate as they unfold. Since climate change will significantly increase the variability of rainfall, different parts of the world will become more vulnerable to floods or droughts.
“Water scarcity and variability pose significant risks to all economic activities, including food and energy production, manufacturing and infrastructure development,“ said Laura Tuck, World Bank Group Vice President for Sustainable Development during a recent press conference at COP21. “Poor water management can exacerbate the effects of climate change on economic growth, but if water is managed well it can go a long way to neutralizing the negative impacts.”
Evaluating the existence and extent of droughts is not an easy task. Not only are droughts "slow-onset" events that creep into the physical, environmental, and social systems of a region, they also have effects that span numerous sectors of a society. The U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM), as recently described by Dr. Michael Hayes from the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) during a recent presentation at the World Bank, provides an example for other nations as they consider how to effectively manage this difficult endeavor of characterizing drought risks and impacts.
As global powers debate ways to solve economic challenges, a more menacing fight is happening in East Africa, where the worst drought in decades has caused widespread hunger, deaths, and the loss of subsistence crops and livestock.