Did you know that there are different types of drought? Yes you heard that right- not all droughts are the same. And in order to fully understand how and why droughts occur and how to attempt to overcome the problems associated this, we must understand the different types of drought. So, what are you waiting for? Read on to learn all about it…
- What is drought? A definition of drought
- What causes a drought to occur?
- Types of droughts
- What are meteorological droughts?
- What are agricultural droughts?
- What are hydrological droughts?
- What are socioeconomic droughts?
- Impacts of droughts
- How can we prevent droughts?
- Types of drought FAQs
- Types of droughts: To conclude
What is drought? A definition of drought
Before we get into the details of the different types of drought, first we must understand exactly what is meant by the term.
Drought can affect various aspects of life, including agriculture, economy, and the environment. It can cause crop failure, water shortages, and can even lead to famine in extreme cases.
Droughts can be caused by natural factors such as a lack of rainfall, as well as human activities such as overuse of water resources and deforestation. Climate change is also expected to increase the frequency and severity of droughts in many parts of the world.
What causes a drought to occur?
Drought can be caused by deficits in the hydrological cycle, which is the natural process by which water is cycled through the Earth’s atmosphere, surface, and underground.
The hydrological cycle involves the evaporation of water from the Earth’s surface, the formation of clouds, precipitation, and the flow of water into rivers, lakes, and groundwater systems.
When there is a deficit in this cycle, meaning that more water is being lost through evaporation and transpiration than is being replenished through precipitation, drought can occur.
Drought can be caused by a combination of natural and human factors, including:
Lack of rainfall
Drought can occur when an area receives less precipitation than usual or experiences a prolonged dry spell.
Changes in the global climate can lead to alterations in rainfall patterns, increasing the likelihood of drought in some regions.
Overuse of water resources, deforestation, land-use changes, and increased urbanisation can also contribute to drought by altering the natural water cycle and reducing the amount of water available for agriculture, industry, and households.
A lack of soil moisture can also contribute to drought by reducing the ability of plants to absorb water and nutrients, leading to crop failure and water shortages.
Natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, and floods can also contribute to drought conditions by disrupting water supplies and damaging vegetation.
It’s important to note that drought is a complex phenomenon that can have multiple causes and impacts, and its severity and duration can vary depending on several factors, including the geographical location, climate, and socio-economic conditions of the affected area.
Types of droughts
Droughts can occur in different forms and are classified based on their severity, duration, and spatial extent.
Understanding the types of droughts is crucial for assessing their potential impacts, developing effective mitigation and adaptation strategies, and managing water resources sustainably.
There are four main types of droughts:
- Meteorological droughts
- Agricultural droughts
- Hydrological droughts
- Socioeconomic droughts.
Each type of drought has unique characteristics and impacts, and their occurrence and severity depend on several factors, including climate, geography, and human activities.
It is important to note that one event can lead to more than one type of drought, as you will see in the examples given below.
What are meteorological droughts?
Meteorological drought is a type of drought that is characterised by a prolonged period of abnormally dry weather conditions. This can include a lack of precipitation (rain or snow) and higher than average temperatures, which can cause water supplies to diminish and affect the growth of crops and other vegetation.
Basically, meteorological drought happens when there is not enough rain or snow for an extended period of time, and the weather is hotter than usual, causing a lack of water that can impact both the natural environment and human activities such as agriculture and water supply.
Examples of metrological drought
Lets take a look at some examples of meteorological drought from around the world…
California Drought (2012-2016)
California experienced one of the most severe metrological droughts on record between 2012 and 2016. The state received only 41% of its average rainfall during this period, causing widespread water shortages and agricultural losses. This drought also led to wildfires and the depletion of groundwater resources.
Horn of Africa Drought (2017-2019)
The Horn of Africa, which includes countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya, experienced a severe metrological drought between 2017 and 2019. This drought was caused by the failure of two consecutive rainy seasons, resulting in food and water shortages, as well as widespread famine and displacement.
Australian Drought (2017-2019)
Australia experienced a meteorological drought from 2017 to 2019, which was characterised by below-average rainfall and high temperatures. This drought led to a decline in agricultural productivity, as well as a reduction in water supply for households and businesses. It also led to wildfires, dust storms, and other environmental impacts.
What are agricultural droughts?
Agricultural drought is a type of drought that affects the growth of crops and the production of food. It happens when there is not enough water in the soil for the crops to grow and develop properly.
During an agricultural drought, the lack of water can cause the crops to wither and die, reducing the yield of food that farmers can produce. It can also lead to a shortage of food and higher prices for consumers. Agricultural droughts can happen in both dry and wet regions, and they can last for short or long periods of time.
To manage agricultural droughts, farmers may use techniques such as planting drought-resistant crops, using irrigation to supplement rainfall, and reducing water use during dry periods.
Examples of agricultural droughts
Agricultural droughts are unfortunately more common than most of us realise. Here are some examples of agricultural droughts that have occurred.
Indian Drought (2015-2016)
India experienced a severe agricultural drought between 2015 and 2016, which was caused by a lack of rainfall during the monsoon season. The drought affected over 330 million people and caused a significant decline in the production of food crops such as rice, wheat, and sugarcane.
Dust Bowl Drought (1930s)
The Dust Bowl Drought, also known as the Dirty Thirties, was a severe agricultural drought that occurred in the Great Plains region of the United States during the 1930s. The drought, combined with poor land management practices, led to widespread soil erosion and dust storms, which destroyed crops and forced many farmers to abandon their land.
Australian Drought (2006-2010)
Australia experienced a severe agricultural drought from 2006 to 2010, which was caused by a lack of rainfall and high temperatures. The drought affected many parts of the country, including the Murray-Darling Basin, which is a major agricultural region. The drought led to a decline in the production of crops such as wheat, barley, and canola, as well as a reduction in livestock numbers.
What are hydrological droughts?
Hydrological drought is a type of drought that happens when there is a shortage of water in streams, rivers, lakes, and groundwater. It occurs when the amount of water that is available in a region is not enough to meet the needs of people, animals, and plants.
During a this type of drought, the water level in lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water can decrease, making it more difficult to access clean water for drinking, farming, and other uses. This can also affect aquatic plants and animals that depend on water to survive.
Hydrological droughts can occur in both dry and wet regions, and they can last for short or long periods of time. To manage hydrological droughts, water conservation measures such as reducing water use and increasing water storage may be implemented.
Examples of hydrological droughts
Lets take a look at some examples of hydrological droughts that have occurred around the world.
Sao Paulo Water Crisis (2014-2015)
The Sao Paulo Water Crisis was a severe hydrological drought that occurred in Brazil between 2014 and 2015. The drought was caused by a lack of rainfall, which led to a decrease in water levels in the Cantareira System, the main water supply for the city of Sao Paulo. The crisis led to water rationing and caused widespread social and economic impacts.
Colorado River Basin Drought (2000-2004)
The Colorado River Basin, which provides water to over 40 million people in the United States and Mexico, experienced a severe hydrological drought from 2000 to 2004. The drought was caused by a combination of low rainfall and high temperatures, which led to a decrease in the water level in the river and its tributaries. The drought led to water rationing and impacted agriculture and hydropower production in the region.
Murray-Darling Basin Drought (2006-2010)
The Murray-Darling Basin, which is the largest river system in Australia and supports agriculture and other industries, experienced a severe hydrological drought from 2006 to 2010. The drought was caused by a lack of rainfall and high temperatures, which led to a decrease in the water level in the rivers and other bodies of water. The drought led to water rationing and impacted agriculture and other industries in the region.
What are socioeconomic droughts?
Socioeconomic drought is a type of drought that occurs when a prolonged period of water scarcity affects people’s livelihoods, social and economic activities, and overall well-being. It is a combination of hydrological drought (lack of water) and impacts on human society.
During a socioeconomic drought, the lack of water can affect various sectors such as agriculture, industry, and domestic water supply, leading to reduced productivity and income loss. It can also lead to social and health impacts such as waterborne diseases and migration from affected areas.
Socioeconomic droughts can have significant impacts on communities, particularly those who are already vulnerable or living in poverty. These impacts can be both short-term and long-term, and can require targeted and sustained interventions to mitigate the negative effects. Strategies to manage socioeconomic droughts can include conservation and demand management, alternative livelihood options, and social safety nets to support affected communities.
Examples of socioeconomic droughts
Socioeconomic droughts can have devastating impacts, here are some examples (some of these are also other types of droughts as highlighted above).
California Drought (2012-2016)
The California drought was a socioeconomic drought that occurred between 2012 and 2016. The drought affected agriculture, particularly the Central Valley region, which is a major producer of fruits, nuts, and vegetables. It also impacted the energy sector and led to water rationing in many cities. The drought caused economic losses and unemployment in affected regions.
Horn of Africa Drought (2011-2012)
The Horn of Africa Drought was a socioeconomic drought that occurred in the region between 2020 and 2023. The drought affected agriculture, particularly pastoralists who rely on livestock for their livelihoods. It also caused food shortages, displacement, and malnutrition, particularly among vulnerable populations. The drought had significant social and economic impacts in the affected countries, including Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya.
Australian Millennium Drought (1997-2010)
The Australian Millennium Drought was a socioeconomic drought that occurred in the country between 1997 and 2010. The drought affected agriculture, particularly the Murray-Darling Basin region, which is a major producer of crops and livestock. It also impacted the energy sector, urban water supply, and the environment. The drought had significant economic, social, and environmental impacts and led to changes in water management policies in the affected regions.
Impacts of droughts
Unfortunately these different types of droughts have many negative impacts. From a lack of food, to ecosystem disruption to economic volatilities, droughts are never a good thing. Below I have summarised some of the major impacts of droughts.
|Impact Category||Impact Description|
|Agricultural||Reduced crop yields, livestock deaths, lower food production, and loss of income for farmers|
|Water Resources||Reduced water availability for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use, water shortages, and increased competition for water|
|Health||Waterborne diseases, malnutrition, hunger, and increased risk of respiratory diseases due to dust and air pollution|
|Economic||Loss of income and jobs, increased food prices, reduced tourism, and decreased economic growth|
|Environmental||Ecosystem stress, soil erosion, land degradation, biodiversity loss, and increased risk of wildfires|
|Social||Migration, conflict, social tensions, and displacement of people, particularly those who are already vulnerable or living in poverty|
How can we prevent droughts?
Droughts are natural phenomena caused by a lack of rainfall or an extended period of dry weather. While we cannot control the weather, there are steps we can take to prevent or mitigate the impacts of droughts. Here are some ways:
- Water conservation: Conserving water is one of the easiest ways to prevent the different types of droughts. This can be done by reducing water usage in households, industries, and agriculture. It involves efficient use of water by implementing techniques such as drip irrigation, which helps to reduce water loss and wastage.
- Reforestation: Trees play a crucial role in regulating water cycles by reducing soil erosion, increasing infiltration, and helping to maintain water quality. Thus, reforestation is an effective way of preventing droughts.
- Reservoirs and groundwater recharge: Building reservoirs and recharging groundwater can help to store water during times of plenty, which can be used during dry periods. This helps to prevent water scarcity and mitigate the impact of droughts.
- Soil conservation: Soil conservation practices, such as the use of cover crops and conservation tillage, help to retain moisture in the soil, which helps to prevent droughts.
- Climate change mitigation: Climate change exacerbates droughts by causing extreme weather conditions, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through climate change mitigation can help to prevent droughts.
- Improved irrigation infrastructure: Improved irrigation infrastructure, such as the construction of new dams and the renovation of existing ones, can help to improve water storage and supply during periods of drought.
Overall, a combination of these measures can help to prevent droughts and reduce their impact when they occur.
Types of drought FAQs
To finish off this article about the types of drought, lets take a look at some of the most common FAQs on this topic.
What is a drought?
A drought is a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall or lack of precipitation that leads to water scarcity and can cause significant environmental, economic, and social impacts.
What causes droughts?
Droughts can be caused by a combination of factors such as climate change, natural weather patterns, and human activities such as over-extraction of groundwater, deforestation, and inefficient use of water resources.
What are the impacts of droughts?
Different types of drought can have severe impacts on agriculture, food security, water supply, energy production, and human health. They can also lead to wildfires, soil erosion, and damage to ecosystems.
How do we measure drought?
Different types of drought are measured using a variety of indicators, including rainfall, soil moisture, streamflow, and groundwater levels. These indicators can be used to assess the severity and duration of a drought event.
What is the difference between a drought and a water shortage?
A drought is a natural event caused by a lack of precipitation, while a water shortage is a result of human activities that lead to the depletion of available water resources.
What are some strategies for coping with different types of drought?
Strategies for coping with these types of drought include improving water efficiency and conservation, using alternative water sources, implementing drought-resistant agriculture practices, and reducing water-intensive activities.
What is the role of governments in responding to different types of droughts?
Governments have a crucial role to play in responding to types of droughts by providing financial assistance, implementing policies and regulations to protect water resources, and promoting drought-resistant agriculture and water conservation practices.
What can individuals do to help prevent and respond to different type of drought?
Individuals can help prevent and respond to droughts by reducing their water use, adopting water-efficient practices, supporting local conservation efforts, and advocating for policies that protect water resources.
Types of droughts: To conclude
As you will now understand, there are four major types of drought. It is important that we understand the different types of drought, to allow us to better predict, manage and mitigate the negative effects of droughts where possible.
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