Drought Policy and Preparedness: Setting the Stage

Drought is a complex natural hazard, and the impacts associated with it are the result of numerous climatic factors and a wide range of societal factors that define the level of societal resilience. Population growth and redistribution and changing consumption and production patterns are two of the factors that define the vulnerability of a region, economic sector, or population group. Many other factors, such as poverty and rural vulnerability, weak or ineffective governance, changes in land use, environmental degradation, environmental awareness and regulations, and outdated or ineffective government policies, also contribute to changing vulnerability.

Although the development of drought policies and preparedness plans can be a challenging undertaking, the outcome of this process can significantly increase societal resilience to these climatic shocks. One of the primary goals of the guidelines presented in this document is to provide a template in order to make the development of national drought policies and associated preparedness plans at the subnational level less daunting.

Simply stated, a national drought policy should establish a clear set of principles or operating guidelines to govern the management of drought and its impacts. The overriding principle of drought policy should be an emphasis on risk management through the application of preparedness and mitigation[1] measures (HMNDP 2013). This policy should be directed toward reducing risk by developing better awareness and understanding of the drought hazard and the underlying causes of societal vulnerability, along with developing a greater understanding of how being proactive and adopting a wide range of preparedness measures can increase societal resilience. Risk management can be promoted by:

  • • Encouraging the improvement and application of seasonal and shorter-term forecasts
  • • Developing integrated monitoring and drought early warning systems and associated information delivery systems
  • • Developing preparedness plans at various levels of government
  • • Adopting mitigation actions and programs
  • • Creating a safety net of emergency response programs that ensure timely and targeted relief
  • • Providing an organizational structure that enhances coordination within and between levels of government and with stakeholders.

The policy should be consistent and equitable for all regions, population groups, and economic sectors and consistent with the goals of sustainable development.

As vulnerability to and the incidence of drought has increased globally, greater attention has been directed to reducing risks associated with its occurrence through improved planning to improve operational capabilities (e.g., climate and water supply monitoring, and building institutional capacity) and mitigation measures that are aimed at reducing drought impacts. This change in emphasis is long overdue. Mitigating the effects of drought requires the use of all components of the cycle of disaster management (Figure 4.1), rather than only the crisis management portion of this cycle. Typically, when drought occurs, governments and donors have followed with impact assessment, response, recovery, and reconstruction activities to return the region or locality to a pre-disaster state. Historically, little attention has been given to preparedness, mitigation, or prediction/early warning actions (i.e., risk management) and the development of risk-based national drought management policies that could avoid or reduce future impacts and lessen the need for government and donor interventions in the future. Crisis management only addresses the symptoms of drought, as they manifest themselves in the impacts that occur as a direct or indirect consequence of drought. Risk management, on the other hand, is focused on identifying where vulnerabilities exist (particular sectors, regions, communities, or

FIGURE 4.1

Cycle of disaster management. (Courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.) population groups) and addresses these risks through systematically implementing mitigation and adaptation measures that will lessen the risk associated with future drought events. Since societies have emphasized crisis management in past attempts at drought management, countries have generally moved from one drought event to another with little, if any, reduction in risk. In addition, in many drought-prone regions, another drought event is likely to occur before the region fully recovers from the last event. If the frequency of drought increases in the future, as projected for many regions, there will be less recovery time between these events.

Progress on drought preparedness and policy development has been slow for a number of reasons. It is certainly related to the slow-onset characteristics of drought and the lack of a universal definition. Drought shares with climate change the distinction of being a creeping phenomenon—the challenge being getting people to recognize changes that occur slowly or incrementally over a long period of time. These characteristics of drought make early warning, impact assessment, and response difficult for scientists, natural resource managers, and policy makers. The lack of a universal definition often leads to confusion and inaction on the part of decision makers since scientists may disagree on the existence and severity of drought conditions (i.e., the onset and recovery time differences between meteorological, agricultural, and hydrological drought). Severity is also difficult to characterize since it is best evaluated on the basis of multiple indicators and indices, rather than on the basis of a single variable. The impacts of drought are also largely nonstructural and spatially pervasive. These features make it difficult to assess the effects of drought and to respond in a timely and effective manner. Drought impacts are not as visual as the impacts of other natural hazards, making it difficult for the media to communicate the significance of the event and its impacts to the public. Public sentiment to respond is often lacking in comparison to other natural hazards that result in loss of life and property.

Associated with the crisis management approach is the lack of recognition that drought is a normal part of the climate. Climate change and associated projected changes in climate variability will likely increase the frequency and severity of drought and other extreme climatic events. In the case of drought, the duration of these events may also increase. Therefore, it is imperative for all drought-prone nations to adopt a drought management approach that is aimed at risk reduction. This approach will increase resilience to future episodes of drought.

It is important to note that each occurrence of drought provides a window of opportunity to move toward a more proactive risk management policy. Immediately following a severe drought episode, policy makers, resource managers, and all affected sectors are aware of the impacts that have occurred, and at this time the causal factors associated with these impacts (i.e., the roots of the vulnerability) are more easily recognized. Any deficiencies in the government's response or that of donor organizations could also be more easily identified. There is no better time to approach policy makers with the concept of developing a national drought policy and preparedness plan aimed at increasing societal resilience.

To provide guidance on the preparation of national drought policies and planning techniques, it is important to define the key components of drought policy, its objectives, and steps in the implementation process. An important component of national drought policy is increased attention to drought preparedness in order to build institutional capacity to deal more effectively with this pervasive natural hazard. The lessons learned by a few countries that have been experimenting with this approach will be helpful in identifying pathways to achieve more drought-resilient societies. For this reason, several case studies are included in this document. It is a living document, which will be revised with experiences gained from further case studies.

A constraint to drought preparedness has been the dearth of methodologies available to policy makers and planners to guide them through the planning process. Drought differs in its physical characteristics between climate regimes, and impacts are locally defined by unique economic, social, and environmental characteristics. A methodology developed by Wilhite (1991) and revised to incorporate greater emphasis on risk management (Wilhite et al. 2000, 2005) has provided a set of generic steps that can be adapted to any level of government (i.e., national to subnational) or geographical setting for the development of a drought preparedness plan.

The IDMP, an initiative of the WMO and the GWP, recognizes the urgent need to provide nations with guidelines for the development of national drought management policies. To achieve this goal, the drought preparedness planning methodology referred to above has been modified to define a generic process by which governments can develop a national drought policy and drought preparedness plans at the national and subnational level that support the principles of that policy. This process is described below with the aim of providing a template that governments or organizations can adapt to their needs to reduce societal vulnerability to drought, thus creating greater resilience for future droughts across all sectors. A national drought policy can be a standalone policy or a subset of a natural disaster risk reduction, sustainable development, integrated water resources, or climate change adaptation plan that may already exist.

  • [1] In the natural hazards field, mitigation measures are commonly defined as actions taken inadvance of the hazard event (e.g., drought) to lessen impacts when the next drought occurs.In contrast, mitigation in the context of climate change is focused on reducing greenhousegas (GHG) emissions and thereby mitigating or limiting future temperature increases.
 
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