Step 2: State or Define the Goals and Objectives of a Risk-Based National Drought Management Policy

Drought is a normal part of climate, but there is considerable evidence and growing concern that the frequency, severity, and duration of droughts are increasing in many parts of the world—or will increase in the future—as a result of anthropogenic climate change. The HMNDP, held in March 2013, was organized largely in response to this concern, as well as the ineffectiveness of the traditional crisis management approach or response to the occurrence of drought. It provided a forum and launched the IDMP.

The essential elements of a national drought management policy, as identified through the HMNDP, are: [1]

  • • Creating comprehensive governmental and private insurance and financial strategies.
  • • Recognizing the need for a safety net of emergency relief based on sound stewardship of natural resources and self-help at diverse governance levels.
  • • Coordinating drought programs and response efforts in an effective, efficient, and customer-oriented manner.

Following the formation of the commission, its first official action should be to establish specific and achievable goals for the national drought policy and a timeline for implementing the various aspects of the policy, as well as a timeline for achieving the goals. Several guiding principles should be considered as the commission formulates a strategy to move from crisis management to a drought risk reduction approach. First, assistance measures, if employed, should not discourage agricultural producers, municipalities, and other sectors or groups from the adoption of appropriate and efficient management practices that help to alleviate the effects of drought (i.e., assistance measures should reinforce the goal of increasing resilience or coping capacity to drought events). Those assistance measures employed should help to build self-reliance to future drought episodes. Second, assistance should be provided in an equitable (i.e., to those most affected), consistent, and predictable manner to all without regard to economic circumstances, sector, or geographic region. It is important to emphasize that the assistance provided is not counterproductive or a disincentive for self-reliance. Third, the protection of the natural and agricultural resource base is paramount, so any assistance or mitigation measures adopted must not run counter to the goals and objectives of the national drought policy and long-term sustainable development goals.

As the commission begins its work, it is important to inventory all emergency response and mitigation programs that are available through the various ministries at the national level. It is also important to assess the effectiveness of these programs and past disbursement of funds through these programs. A similar exercise should be implemented at the state or provincial level in association with the development of drought preparedness and mitigation plans.

To provide guidance in the preparation of national drought policies and planning techniques, it is important to define the key components of a drought policy, its objectives, and steps in the implementation process. Commission members, supporting experts, and stakeholders should consider many questions as they define the goals of the policy: [2]

  • • What are the country's most vulnerable economic and social sectors and regions?
  • • Historically, what have been the most notable impacts of drought?
  • • Historically, what has been the government's response to drought and what has been its level of effectiveness?
  • • What is the role of the policy in addressing and resolving conflict between water users and other vulnerable groups during periods of shortage?
  • • What current trends (e.g., climate, drought incidence, land and water use, and population growth) may increase vulnerability and conflicts in the future?
  • • What resources (human and financial) is the government able to commit to the planning process?
  • • What other human and financial resources are available to the government (e.g., climate change adaptation funds)?
  • • What are the legal and social implications of the plan at various jurisdictional levels, including those extending beyond the state borders?
  • • What principal environmental concerns are exacerbated by drought?

A generic statement of purpose for the drought policy and preparedness plans is to reduce the impacts of drought by identifying principal activities, groups, or regions most at risk and developing mitigation actions and programs that reduce these vulnerabilities. The policy should be directed at providing government with an effective and systematic means of assessing drought conditions, developing mitigation actions and programs to reduce risk in advance of drought, and developing response options that minimize economic stress, environmental losses, and social hardships during drought.


Drought is a normal part of the climate for virtually all portions of the United States; it is a recurring, inevitable feature of climate that results in serious economic, environmental, and social impacts. In 1995, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimated average annual losses because of drought in the United States to be US$6 billion-US$8 billion, more than for any other natural hazard. The recent 2012 drought resulted in impacts estimated at US$35 billion-US$70 billion. Yet the United States has, historically, been ill-prepared for the recurrence of severe drought and responds, like most nations, in a reactive, crisis management approach, focusing on responding to the symptoms (impacts) of drought through a wide assortment of emergency response or relief programs. These programs can best be characterized as too little and too late. More importantly, drought relief does little if anything to reduce the vulnerability of the affected area to future drought events. Today, the nation has a better understanding of the pathway needed for improving drought management, which will require a new paradigm, one that encourages preparedness and mitigation through the application of the principles of risk management.

Since the early 1980s, a growing number of states have developed drought plans. To date, 47 of the 50 states have developed such plans, and of these, 11 are more proactive, stressing the importance of mitigation in the preparedness process. The majority of states have relied upon the 10-step drought planning process as a guide in the plan preparation process, either by directly applying the process or by replicating the plans of other states that have followed this 10-step process.

The most significant progress in drought preparedness at the state level has occurred since the mid-1990s and, especially, since 2000. In these more recent years, there has been a stronger emphasis on mitigation. This progress can be attributed largely to several key factors. First, a series of significant droughts have affected nearly all portions of the country since 1996 and, in many cases, for five to seven consecutive years. These droughts have raised the awareness of drought within the science and policy communities, as well as with the public. The US Drought Monitor Map, a weekly product produced since 1999 through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC) at the University of Nebraska, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the US Department of Agriculture, has helped to raise awareness of drought conditions and impacts across the nation. It is highly regarded by both federal and state government as an excellent integrated approach to characterize the severity of drought and its spatial dimensions across the nation. The US Drought Monitor Map is not only effectively used at the federal level but also by states for drought assessment and as a trigger for drought response and mitigation programs. Second, the spiraling impacts of drought and the increasing number of key sectors affected, as well as the conflicts between sectors, has elevated the importance of drought preparedness within the policy community at all levels. Third, the creation of the NDMC at the University of Nebraska in 1995 has resulted in increased attention on issues of drought monitoring, impact assessment, mitigation, and preparedness. Many states have benefited from the existence of this expertise to guide the drought planning process. This is especially noticeable through the trend in the number of states developing or revising plans with a substantial emphasis on mitigation. As states have moved along the continuum from response to mitigation planning, there is an increasing need for better and timelier information on drought status and early warning, including improved seasonal forecasts and the delivery of that information to decision makers and other users. It is also important for these users or stakeholders to be involved in the development of products or decision support tools to ensure that their concerns and needs are being met.

Although the United States has not developed a national drought policy, there has been considerable pressure from states for the federal government to move toward a risk-based national drought policy. This pressure has been quite effective, leading to the introduction of legislation in the US Congress to improve preparedness and early warning. The National Drought Policy Act of 1998 created the National Drought Policy Commission (NDPC), charged with making recommendations to the Congress on future approaches to drought management. The final report of the Commission was submitted to Congress in 2000 and included a recommendation that the United States move forward with the development of a national drought policy based on the principles of risk management (NDPC 2000). The National Drought Preparedness Act, largely embodying the most significant recommendations from the NDPC, was introduced in Congress in 2001, and then reintroduced in 2003 and 2005. Although this bill did not pass and become law, it did generate another bill, the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Act, which passed Congress in 2006 and was signed by the president later that year. This system (NIDIS) has been implemented by NOAA with partners from other federal agencies, state and regional organizations, and universities. NIDIS was recently reauthorized for a period of 5 years by Congress.

Largely in response to the severe drought of 2012 in the United States, which at its peak affected 65 percent of the contiguous states, the Obama Administration authorized the creation of a National Drought Resilience Partnership through an Executive Order in November 2013. This partnership includes seven federal agencies with the goal of assisting communities to better prepare for and reduce the impact of drought events on communities, families, and businesses. This action by the president has the potential to continue moving the United States on a path toward a risk-based national drought policy as part of the Obama Administration's Climate Change Action Plan.

  • [1] Developing proactive mitigation and planning measures, risk management approaches, and public outreach and resource stewardship. • Enhancing collaboration between national, regional, and globalobservation networks and developing information delivery systems that improve public understanding of, and preparedness for,drought.
  • [2] What is the purpose and role of government in drought mitigationand response efforts? • What is the scope of the policy?
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