8 Effects of Drought on the Environment

The effects of drought cuts across various aspects of our lives affecting even our economy. Droughts damage lives and livelihoods by causing thirst, hunger (as a result of crops dying due to a lack of water), and disease transmission.

During the twentieth century, harsh droughts and famines killed millions of people. The Sahel region of Africa, which includes sections of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan, was one of the hardest hit. Droughts can have a variety of geographical effects. If people are forced to relocate due to drought, it may place a strain on resources in neighbouring countries.

Droughts can be devastating to both MEDCs and LEDCs. Droughts have claimed the lives of many people in Europe in recent years, particularly the elderly. In the summer of 2006, there were hose-pipe bans and campaigns in the United Kingdom to encourage people to save water.

Before we discuss the effects of drought, let’s take a look at what drought is.

What is Drought?

A drought is defined as a period of protracted water scarcity, whether it is due to atmospheric (below-average precipitation), surface water, or groundwater shortages. Drought occurs when there is a prolonged lack of precipitation, such as rain, snow, or sleet, resulting in a water deficit. Droughts are natural occurrences, but human activities, such as water consumption and management, can exacerbate them.

What constitutes a drought varies by place and is mostly determined by weather patterns unique to that area. On the tropical island of Bali, the threshold for drought can be reached after just six rainless days, but in the Libyan desert, annual rainfall must dip below seven inches to qualify for a comparable proclamation.

Droughts are categorized according to how they develop and what types of impact they have.

  • Meteorological Drought
  • Agricultural Drought
  • Hydrological Drought

1. Meteorological drought

Imagine a vast stretch of dry, cracked ground, and you’ve got a good idea of what meteorological drought looks like. It happens when a region’s rainfall falls well short of predictions.

2. Agricultural drought

Agricultural drought can occur when available water supplies are insufficient to meet the needs of crops or cattle at a specific period. It could be due to a meteorological drought, a lack of water supply, or simply bad timing, such as when snowmelt starts when runoff is most needed to hydrate crops.

3. Hydrological drought

A hydrological drought occurs when there is a prolonged shortage of rainfall, causing surface water (rivers, reservoirs, or streams) and groundwater supplies to be depleted.

Human Causes of Drought

While drought occurs naturally, human activity—from water use to greenhouse gas emissions—is having a growing impact on their likelihood and intensity. The effects of drought have been accelerated by human causes. Human activities that can help trigger droughts include:

  • Widespread tree cutting for fuel
  • Building a dam on a huge river
  • Agriculture
  • Dam building
  • Deforestation
  • Climate change
  • Excess water demand 

1. Widespread tree cutting for fuel

This lowers the soil’s ability to store water, causing the land to dry out, prompting desertification, and resulting in drought.

2. Building a dam on a huge river

This might generate energy as well as water to irrigate crops surrounding the reservoir. However, by drastically limiting the flow of water downstream, it may produce drought.

3. Agriculture

Irrigating crops with vast volumes of water deplete lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Cotton, for example, requires more water than other crops.

4. Dam building

To generate energy and store water in a reservoir, large dams can be built across rivers. This could restrict the amount of river water flowing downstream, resulting in dryness below the dam.

5. Deforestation

Clouds occur when trees and plants release moisture into the atmosphere, and the moisture is returned to the earth as rain. When trees and vegetation are lost, there is less water is available to feed the water cycle, putting entire regions at risk of drought.

Because rain tends to fall and wash off the ground as surface run-off, removing trees can limit the quantity of water held in the soil. This exposes the earth to erosion and desertification, both of which can result in drought.

Meanwhile, deforestation and other bad land-use practices, such as intensive farming, can affect soil quality and the ability of the land to absorb and retain water. As a result, soil dries out faster (perhaps causing agricultural drought) and groundwater is recharged less frequently (which can contribute to hydrological drought).

Indeed, researchers believe that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was caused in large part by bad farming methods paired with a few tenths of a degree of cooling in the Pacific and warming in the Atlantic.

6. Climate change

Drought is impacted by climate change—specifically, global warming—in two basic ways: Warmer temperatures cause wet areas to get wetter and dry areas to become dryer. Warm air absorbs more water in wetter areas, resulting in greater rain showers. Warmer temperatures, on the other hand, cause water to evaporate more quickly in arid areas.

Climate change also affects large-scale atmospheric circulation patterns, which can cause storm tracks to diverge from their expected routes. This can amplify weather extremes, which is one reason why climate models predict that the already parched Southwest of the United States and the Mediterranean will continue to dry up.

7. Excess water demand 

Drought is frequently caused by a mismatch between supply and demand for water. Regional population growth and heavy agricultural water usage can strain water resources to the point that drought becomes a genuine possibility.

According to one study, human usage of water increased the incidence of drought in North America by 25% between 1960 and 2010. Furthermore, as rainfall declines and drought conditions set in, continued water demand—in the form of increased pumping from groundwater, rivers, and reservoirs—can degrade valuable water resources, taking years to replace and affecting future water availability permanently.

Meanwhile, increased demand for water from upstream lakes and rivers, particularly for irrigation and hydroelectric dams, can cause downstream water sources to decline or dry up, contributing to drought in other areas.

Environmental Effects of Drought

Water is necessary for all life on Earth, and a scarcity of this critical resource in the ecosystem will harm all living things. The environmental Effects of Drought are as follows.

  • Wetlands Dry Up
  • Surface Water Pollution
  • Plants’ Health Is Negatively Affected
  • Dust Storms Become Common
  • Loss Of Biodiversity
  • Increased Wildfires
  • Migration of Animals
  • Increased Desertification

1. Wetlands Dry Up

The drying up of wetlands is one of the environmental effects of drought. Wetland habitats can be dried out due to a lack of water. Because such areas sustain such a diverse range of flora and fauna, water scarcity makes it impossible for all of these life forms to survive.

2. Surface Water Pollution

Surface water pollution is one of the environmental effects of drought. Pollutants accumulate on land and in residual surface water resources due to low precipitation and water loss from water bodies such as rivers and streams. Because contaminants are normally carried away by rain and flowing water bodies draining the area, a shortage of such water resources leads to pollution of soil and remaining water resources.

3. Plants’ Health Is Negatively Affected

The negative impact on the health of plants is one of the environmental effects of drought. Plantlife is usually lost when there is a drought. Plants that grow in a low-water environment are always unhealthy. As a result, plants become extremely vulnerable to pest-borne illnesses. As a result, enormous swaths of drought-affected land are frequently devoid of vegetation.

4. Dust Storms Become Common

Dust storms becoming common is one of the environmental effects of drought. Soil dries up in the absence of water and becomes vulnerable to wind erosion. Droughts frequently result in dust storms, which harm the environment, including plant life and human health.

5. Loss Of Biodiversity

Loss of biodiversity is one of the environmental effects of drought. The majority of plants and animals in drought-stricken areas are unable to thrive. As a result, entire species populations can be wiped out in a given area. As a result, drought-affected areas have experienced a significant loss of biodiversity.

6. Increased Wildfires

Increased wildfires are one of the environmental effects of drought. The lack of moisture dries out the foliage, which might catch fire if the temperatures are high enough. As a result, during droughts, wildfires are very common. Wildfires sweep across wide swaths of land in the absence of rain, destroying all plant and animal life in the area and leaving the ground barren and lifeless.

7. Migration of Animals

The migration of animals is one of the environmental effects of drought. During droughts, wildlife is forced to migrate to safer areas where these essential supplies are accessible. Many animals, however, perish on such travels. Those who succeed in reaching better habitats frequently perish as a result of their failure to adapt to their new environment.

8. Increased Desertification

Increased desertification is one of the environmental effects of drought. Desertification can be accelerated by droughts due to overgrazing, deforestation, and other human activities. Water scarcity kills plants, even more, leaving the earth with few options for recovery.

Economic Impacts of Drought

Drought can be costly to individuals, businesses, and governments. The economic effects of drought may be local, affecting only individuals who live in the drought-affected area, or they may be widespread, affecting people who live outside the drought-affected area. Drought has a negative influence on a variety of industries, including agriculture, energy production, tourism, and recreation.

  • The economic impact of drought on agriculture
  • The economic impact of the drought on energy production
  • The economic impact of the drought on recreation and tourism

1. The economic impact of drought on agriculture

Dry circumstances and a lack of precipitation can harm or kill crops in the agricultural industry, reducing farmers’ income. Increased food costs are a result of crop loss, and the economic effects of drought can be seen in other provinces and even countries.

Drought harms cattle producers due to a shortage of drinking water and bad pasture conditions, as well as higher feed prices. Ranchers may sell or slaughter more animals from their herd due to a scarcity of food and water or an increase in the price of food and water.

Due to an oversupply of meat, an increase in animals slaughtered early in a drought year may produce an initial drop in meat prices. However, as long as there is a drought, meat costs will rise since there are fewer animals and the cost of feeding and watering them will rise.

2. The economic impact of the drought on energy production

Drought has an impact on both thermal energy production and hydropower production, as there may not be enough water to cool the process or produce enough power.

3. The economic impact of the drought on recreation and tourism

Drought can also harm the recreation and tourism industries. During a drought, businesses such as water sports rental establishments may suffer financial losses. Small businesses that rely on a continuous stream of tourists for revenue, such as those near a waterfront or in a holiday town, may also lose money.

Drought’s economic effects may become more noticeable as climatic variability grows in the future. Droughts can be costly for consumers, as food and energy prices rise, as well as for the municipality, province, and country in which they occur. If a drought is severe enough, it may have an impact on a country’s overall GDP.

Positive Effects of Droughts

The following are some of the positive effects of drought.

  • Balance the health of wetlands
  • Droughts allow some species to thrive.
  • Raise awareness of water-saving
  • Encourage water recycling

1. Balance the health of wetlands

Balance of the health of wetlands is one of the positive effects of drought. Wetlands are one of the world’s most diverse and productive ecosystems. Salt marshes, estuaries, mangroves, and other types of habitats are among them. Wetlands are home to a variety of vegetation as well as animals such as ducks and waterfowl. Because the system is dynamic, it can support a wide variety of organisms.

However, too much water in wetlands can reduce the system’s productivity. Bottom sediment, for example, becomes excessively soft, preventing plants from rooting properly. As microorganisms consume dead animals and plants, the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere falls.

Droughts thus aid in the rebalancing of wetlands’ health. Nutrients are left behind as water evaporates. They nourish the sediment, allowing new plants to emerge and thrive.

2. Droughts allow some species to thrive.

Drought allowing some species to thrive is one of the positive effects of drought. Long periods of drought, on the other hand, allow certain plants and animals to survive. When there is a lack of water, a sunflower may dry out and die, whereas chaparral plants have evergreen leaves.

This is because some species have unique features that allow them to survive long periods of drought. Kangaroos, for example, spend the day in burrows that are neither too hot nor too cold. They feed at night when it is cooler outside. Peanuts also withstand droughts, allowing them to thrive in the brief wet season of West Africa’s northern savanna zone.

As a result, where droughts last for a long time, some plant and animal species can invade and develop in the dry areas.

3. Raise awareness of water-saving

Raising awareness of water-saving is one of the positive effects of drought. Although water covers 75% of the world, just 2.5 per cent of it is freshwater that we can drink. Furthermore, about two-thirds of the world’s population lives in locations where freshwater is scarce. As the world’s population grows, so will the demand for water to create food and energy.

The average American, Irish, and British person currently consume up to 568 litres of water each day. Or about two full bathtubs of water each person per day. Droughts will become more common as the climate continues to change.

4. Encourage water recycling

Encouraging water recycling is one of the positive effects of drought. When we treat used water for uses other than drinking, we call it water recycling or water reuse. Water recycling is, in reality, a key adaptation tool for conserving water in the face of climate change.

So, rather than dumping water away from baths and sinks, we collect it. Greywater is the term for this type of water. The water is then treated to remove pollutants and, in certain cases, microbes.

Finally, the cleaned water can be used to clean cars, do laundry, and irrigate flowers. Greywater can be used to regulate the temperature in enterprises and greenhouses.

Greywater is being used by an increasing number of countries as a sustainable solution. Summers in Spain, for example, are dry and hot, with droughts on occasion. In several areas, communities are already recycling water, totalling 1200 m3 per year.

Negative Effects of Droughts

Droughts can have both short- and long-term consequences. Water and moisture levels in the earth are decreasing in the short term. Plants perish as the earth dries out. Water becomes limited for both people and animals over lengthy periods.

Desertification is typically caused by erosion and rainfall removing the loose topsoil. During droughts, such as locust outbreaks in Africa, insects and plant-eating fungus increase. Droughts can increase the occurrence and intensity of wildfires.

Apart from the fact that one of the negative effects of drought is that there is less available drinking water which can lead to various other things and finally death, here are some other negative effects of drought.

  • Affect agriculture and food production
  • Crop failures and livestock deaths
  • Migration
  • Droughts make infections more likely.
  • Economic losses

1. Affect agriculture and food production

One of the positive effects of drought is that it affects agriculture and food production. Droughts have a huge impact on agriculture, which in turn has an impact on food production. 95 per cent of agriculture in certain parts of the world, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, is reliant on green water.

Green water is the moisture that the earth retains after it has been rained on. Even green water is disappearing as the temperature rises. This can consequently lead to starvation and finally death.

2. Crop failures and livestock deaths

One of the positive effects of drought is that it causes crop failures and livestock deaths. Kenya has seen 28 droughts in the last 100 years, with three of them occurring in the last decade. Massive crop failures and livestock mortality resulted, resulting in serious food shortages.

Similarly, due to severe droughts aggravated by El Nino episodes, humanitarian aid has tripled in Ethiopia since 2015. Harvest failures and livestock deaths exacerbated starvation, resulting in 10.2 million people requiring humanitarian help.

3. Migration

One of the positive effects of drought is that it leads to migration. Droughts that last for a long time can force communities to relocate. For example, in India in 2019, a drought triggered major migration from villages, with up to 90% of Maharashtra’s population fleeing. Migrants might thus put more strain on the resources in the areas where they settle. Alternatively, the communities from which they move may lose valuable human resources.

4. Droughts make infections more likely.

One of the positive effects of drought is that it makes infections more likely. Droughts can increase the likelihood of infectious diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, and cholera. The main causes include a lack of cleanliness, shortage of water, displacement, and acute malnutrition.

Dust and smoke can have a substantial impact on air quality if droughts fuel wildfires. As a result, it has the potential to affect the health of persons suffering from respiratory disorders such as asthma or heart disease.

5. Economic losses

One of the positive effects of drought is that it leads to economic losses. Overall, droughts invariably result in significant economic losses. Each drought in the United States, for example, costs the government roughly $9.5 billion. Droughts cost China roughly $7 billion per year between 1984 and 2017, whereas the 2003 drought in 20 European countries cost $15 billion.

Droughts generally harm companies that rely on water, such as agriculture, tourism, and food and energy production. People employed in these fields may eventually lose their jobs, resulting in debt accumulation. Similarly, as water becomes scarce, its price may climb. Hydropower production may decline, increasing energy prices.

Prevention of Drought

  • Avoiding Overuse
  • Conserving Water
  • Better Monitoring

1. Avoiding Overuse

Overuse is one of the most significant strains on our water supply. Droughts can be avoided by being conscious of how much water you consume daily. Turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth, watering your lawn first thing in the morning to reduce evaporation, and installing low-flow plumbing fixtures are all effective strategies to save water. High-efficiency appliances, such as washing machines and dishwashers, as well as high-efficiency valves and other fixtures, help to reduce water use.

2. Conserving Water

Water does not have to be drinkable for humans to use for other purposes. That implies we can re-use water in many cases to help conserve our fresh, potable water sources. Collecting rainwater with a rain barrel is one of the simplest ways to achieve this. Instead of using the garden hose, water your garden with a rain barrel.

This has the added benefit of avoiding contaminants from gathering in rainfall as it travels through the streets to the water supply. Water can be diverted from sinks, bathtubs, and washing machines to flush toilets or water landscaping using certain plumbing devices.

3. Better Monitoring

Households and companies may now have a better understanding of how they use their resources thanks to technology, and so-called “smart plumbing” is becoming more popular. Water customers can see exactly how much water they use thanks to new monitoring equipment, which can help them be more careful and spot leaks and locations where their plumbing may be inefficient.

Although getting water is as simple as turning on the faucet, water should not be taken for granted. Drought prevention requires conserving and safeguarding our water supply, which is simple to achieve with a few basic concepts.

Other approaches to avoid drought include changing agriculture and irrigation patterns. Water transportation channels must be adequately maintained. Leaks are a horrible thing.

Water meters must be placed in the same location as electricity meters. So far, telling someone not to drink too much water hasn’t yielded positive results. Nobody can count water, but a water meter can. Have water trains ready to go. Attach them to the disaster-response teams’ units. The water train can arrive in a location as soon as there is a threat of drought. We must prevent deforestation, which necessitates afforestation.

 8 Effects of Drought on the Environment – FAQs

What causes Drought?

Droughts are brought on by a lack of precipitation over a long period. Drought is caused by a variety of variables, including climate change, ocean temperatures, changes in the jet stream, and changes in the local geography.

Where do Droughts Occur?

Droughts can strike everywhere on the planet. Droughts are most common in locations where groundwater levels are low or where groundwater is over-harvested.

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