Drought Policy: Characteristics and the Way Forward

As a beginning point in the discussion of drought policy, it is important to identify the various types of drought policies that are available and have been employed for drought management. The first and most common approach followed by both developing and developed nations is post-impact government (or nongovernment) interventions. These interventions are normally relief measures in the form of emergency assistance programs aimed at providing money or other specific types of assistance (e.g., livestock feed, water, and food) to the victims (or those experiencing the most severe impacts) of the drought. This reactive approach, characterized by the hydroillogical cycle (Figure 4.2), is seriously flawed from the perspective of vulnerability reduction since the recipients of this assistance are not expected to change behaviors or resource management practices as a condition of the assistance. Brazil, a country that has typically followed the crisis management approach, is currently reevaluating this approach and strongly considering the development of a national drought policy that is focused on risk reduction (see Chapter 21).

Although drought assistance provided through emergency response interventions may address a short-term need, it may in the longer term actually decrease the coping capacity of individuals and communities by fostering greater reliance on these interventions rather than increasing self-reliance. For example, livestock producers that do not maintain adequate on-farm storage of feed for livestock as a drought management strategy will be the first to experience the impacts of extended precipitation shortfalls, and they will be the first to turn to the government or other organizations for assistance


The hydro-illogical cycle. (Courtesy of National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.) to maintain herds until the drought is over and forage supplies return to adequate levels. Likewise, urban communities that have not augmented water supply capabilities in response to population growth or maintained or updated delivery systems may turn to government for assistance during periods of drought-induced water shortages. The shortages that result are the product of poor planning rather than a direct impact of drought. This reliance on the government for relief is contrary to the philosophy of encouraging risk preparedness through an investment by producers, water managers, and others to improve their drought-coping capacity. Government assistance or incentives that encourage these investments would be a philosophical change in how governments respond and would promote a change in the expectations of livestock producers as to the role of government in these response efforts. The more traditional approach of providing relief is also flawed in terms of the timing of assistance being provided. It often takes weeks or months for assistance to be received, at times well beyond the window of when the relief would be of greatest value in addressing the impacts of drought. In addition, those livestock producers who previously employed appropriate risk reduction techniques are likely ineligible for assistance since the impacts they experienced were reduced and therefore do not meet the eligibility requirements. This approach rewards those that have not adopted appropriate resource management practices.

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