Drought is the world’s costliest natural disaster (IRIN News)

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From drought policy to reality

There is quite a leap to be made between a country’s declared intent to draw up a drought policy and actually making it happen on the ground. This was the view of several participants at the recent High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy in Geneva.

Drought is the world’s costliest natural disaster, incurring US$6-8 billion in losses every year. And droughts are becoming more common.

“Droughts are becoming more prevalent and are an almost a permanent phenomenon in parts of Africa, punctuated by floods, leaving no recovery periods for vulnerable households,” said Gideon Galu, a regional scientist based in Africa with the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET).

Despite these facts, few countries have drought policies in place.

After five days of deliberations at the first-ever global conference on drought in Geneva, those in attendance issued a non-binding declaration urging countries to develop and implement national drought policies.

Niger’s Prime Minister Brigi Rafini told IRIN, “You have to respect countries’ sovereignty. You cannot compel them to implement policies, but at least the conference has created an awareness to move towards prevention [of the damaging impact of droughts], and delegates have learned about the value of cooperation [across sectors and agencies].”

10-step recommendation

The declaration was accompanied by a series of policy options for countries to consider. The policy document recommends a 10-step process roughly modelled on the US government’s drought preparedness plan. The steps are a mix of crisis prevention, making countries and communities more resilient, response and science:



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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.