Final Thoughts

Drought results in widespread and complex impacts on society. Numerous factors influence drought vulnerability. As our population increases and becomes more urbanized, there are growing pressures on water and natural resource managers and policymakers to minimize these impacts. This also places considerable pressure on the science community to provide better tools, and credible and timely information to assist decision makers. The adaptive capacity of a community (defined here in the broadest terms) means little if available tools, data, and knowledge are not used effectively. Drought certainly exacerbates all of these problems and has significant cumulative impacts across all of these areas beyond the period of its climatological occurrence. Improving drought preparedness and management and its link to water management is one of the key challenges for the future.

The motivation for this book was to provide insights into these important issues and problems and, it is hoped, point toward some real and potential solutions, based on empirical evidence and experience. The contributors to this volume have addressed a wide range of topics that focus on integrating science, management, and policy issues in theory and practice. Building awareness of the importance of improved drought management today and investing in preparedness planning, mitigation, improved monitoring, and early warning systems and better forecasts will pay enormous dividends now and in the future.

Finding the financial resources to adopt risk-based drought preparedness plans and policies is always indicated as an impediment to changing the paradigm by policy and other decision makers. However, the solution seems clear: divert resources from reactive response programs that do little, if anything, to reduce vulnerability to drought (and, as has been demonstrated, may increase vulnerability) to a more proactive, risk-based management approach. For example, in the United States, billions of dollars have been provided as relief to the victims of drought in recent decades. The same is true in many drought-prone nations, both developed and developing, throughout the world. One can only imagine the advances that could have been made in predrought mitigation and preparedness strategies had a portion of those funds been invested in better monitoring networks, early warning and information delivery systems, decision support tools to improve decision-making, improved climate forecasts, drought planning and impact assessment methodologies. We are not here including those who are truly victims—that is, those whose lack of access and capacity to use these advances have left them at the mercy of those who exercise knowledge, decisions, and power (see Nakashima et al. 2012; Verver 2011). The key to invoking a new paradigm for drought management is educating the public—not only the recipients of drought assistance that have become accustomed to government interventions in times of crisis but also the rest of the public whose taxes are being used to compensate for losses. There will always be a role for emergency response, whether for drought or some other natural hazard, but it needs to be used sparingly and only when it does not conflict with preestablished drought policies that reflect sustainable resource management practices.

On the occasion of World Water Day in March 2004, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, stated:

Water-related disasters, including floods, droughts, hurricanes, typhoons, and tropical cyclones, inflict a terrible toll on human life and property, affecting millions of people and provoking crippling economic losses. ... However much we would wish to think of these as strictly natural disasters, human activities play a significant role in increasing risk and vulnerability. . Modern society has distinct advantages over those civilizations of the past that suffered or even collapsed for reasons linked to water. We have great knowledge, and the capacity to disperse that knowledge to the remotest places on earth. We are also the beneficiaries of scientific leaps that have improved weather forecasting, agricultural practices, natural resources management, and disaster prevention, preparedness, and management. New technologies will continue to provide the backbone of our efforts. But only a rational and informed political, social, and cultural response—and public participation in all stages of the disaster management cycle—can reduce disaster vulnerability, and ensure that hazards do not turn into unmanageable disasters.

In 2013, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, stated:

Over the past quarter-century, the world has become more drought- prone, and droughts are projected to become more widespread, intense, and frequent as a result of climate change. The long-term impacts of prolonged drought on ecosystems are profound, accelerating land degradation and desertification. The consequences include impoverishment and the risk of local conflict over water resources and productive land. Droughts are hard to avert, but their effects can be mitigated. Because they rarely observe national borders they demand a collective response.

The price of preparedness is minimal compared to the cost of disaster relief. Let us therefore shift from managing crises to preparing for droughts and building resilience by fully implementing the outcomes of the High-level Meeting on National Drought Policy held in Geneva last March. (The complete statement from Ban Ki-moon is available at: http://www.un.org/sg/statements/?nid=6911)

We would argue that the complexities of drought and its differences from other natural hazards make drought more difficult to deal with than any other natural hazard, especially if the goal is to mitigate impacts. Special efforts must be made to address these differences as part of drought preparedness planning, or the differences will result in a failure of the mitigation and planning process. It is imperative that future drought management efforts consider the unique nature of drought, its natural and social dimensions, and the difficulties of developing effective early warning systems, reliable seasonal forecasts, accurate and timely impact assessment tools, comprehensive drought preparedness plans, effective mitigation and response actions, and drought policies that reinforce sustainable resource management objectives.

 
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