Summary: Even our Blue Planet isn’t quite safe from turning brown. Here’s why:
Water is the fundamental necessity of life. Scientists have found it to be so essential, that they believe any celestial body with large reserves of water may very well contain some form of life. Our planet Earth is 71% covered with water. Droughts are extended periods of dry weather characterized by a severe lack of hydration within an environment. They can potentially occur anywhere on land and are the second most costly weather phenomenon after hurricanes. Unlike hurricanes though, they come much more quietly and slowly. Typically, when the evaporation and moisture loss of a place far exceeds rainfall or precipitation over a prolonged period of time, it leads to the depletion of water bodies, groundwater, wildlife, plants, animals, and all water reserves in the area making the land unfertile, inhabitable, and devoid of life. Despite all our technological advancements and modern luxuries, agriculture is still the backbone of our civilization on which everything else is built on.
Types of droughts
For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that there are 4 types of Droughts, 2 of which are natural and unavoidable:
Some climates have well-defined and regular seasons of rainfall and dry seasons. Agriculture here is based on strict planning and growth during the wet season.
- Permanent Drought:
These comprise our Dessert areas and arid drylands. The few forms of plants and animal life that do exist here are highly adapted to these environments and capable of surviving in these harsh environments. Farming is impossible without continuous irrigation.
These two are fairly benign as they are predictable. There are two more types of droughts that are the most damaging:
The weather is governed by so many different factors and is subject to constant change and fluctuations. Drought is often defined by the average rainfall received by a specific location in a specific time period, which is also subject to change in the future. Abnormal rainfall failure can occur anywhere on earth and create such a situation that is most destructive, difficult to deal with, and impossible to prevent.
It is also hard to ascertain when a drought has started and when it will end. Inadequately low water levels can only be noticed based on the effects of a drought, and those are observed much after the damage is done. Rainfall might provide short-term relief, yet still manage to fail at compensating the water levels of the ecosystem in question. This is why many times droughts can be invisible as well.
Droughts can have the following devastating effects:
- Trees and plant life have adapted many ways to withstand droughts to a surprising degree. From reactive methods like dropping their leaves, slowing their growth, and turning brown to conserve water, to reactive ones like deep roots that seek out water, self-pruning extra mass to focus on the main branches required for survival, Cacti having needle-like leaves to minimize moisture loss, and leaving seeds that can last for years underground. Plantlife is ingenious at survival, yet prolonged periods of drought can even cause these titans to die out eventually.
- They damage the habitat itself, leading to soil erosion, loss of biodiversity critical for a healthy ecosystem, and an increased risk of wildfires. Wildfires can easily occur in dry environments, making them much more common in Sunny days of winter seasons, when even the friction between a falling tree and its surroundings can cause ignition. Thunder without adequate rainfall can also spark forest fires as trees conduct electricity.
- The Economy is directly afflicted by Droughts. Corp loss leads to heavy monetary loss, increasing the price of food, decreasing land prices, and causing major unemployment. Lack of water over longer periods can lead to complete economic ruin as the health of the population falls, famine becomes widespread, and water being the most basic necessity after air starts to ignite socio-political unrest and even lead to the collapse of civilizations.
- All this causes the forced migration of people seeking refuge in better-off places. Better-off places are then forced to deal with the consequences of Droughts in other parts of the world, as well as the social responsibility to provide refuge.
As Droughts are a naturally occurring phenomenon, it is impossible to prevent them completely. Yet human activities can definitely influence the effects of Droughts in a region.
Although the relation between Climate Change and Droughts has not been firmly linked, it is almost certain that climate change will cause more disparity and chaotic change all over the world as some places become wetter and some become drier. It will cause major disruption in typical farming habits as uninformed farmers are faced with progressively unpredictable weather conditions.
Many agricultural activities have made the land more vulnerable to Droughts. As an increasing number of places in the world are dealing with overpopulation, traditional activities like rotating crops to allow the land to recover, and alternating areas for livestock grazing, there is no longer enough land for sustainable practices using traditional methods.
Overgrazing and over-farming have led to tightening of the soil which decreases how much water it can hold and soil erosion which causes the topmost fertile layer of the Earth to become arid and desert-like. This process is called desertification.
Hence deforestation, rampant agriculture to curb ever-increasing food demands, overgrazing, unsustainable farming practices, and the unethical clearing of forest reserves in third world countries by huge first world companies have already caused many places on Earth to suffer greatly from Droughts and even suffer absolute destruction.
It is a well-known fact that the presence of Trees makes a huge difference in bringing precipitation to an area and controlling Soil Erosion by holding the land together, which keeps the water underground, also complimenting groundwater reserves. Forests are essential in preventing Droughts. As agriculture is the most damaging activity in this regard, development, application, and availability of sustainable, eco-friendly food production techniques, like buildings for growing plants that produce more in less land area, smarted water management systems and methods, research and development of these areas, freely sharing the findings, and educating the relevant people will be the best way to solve these human effects on an already devastating natural calamity. Decreasing your consumption by growing some food in your own homes, improving water management, decreasing your carbon footprint to curb climate change, supporting sustainable agricultural practices, and educating more people are some ways that you can make your contribution to solving this problem!
Alt: Example of Urban Agriculture. ; Description: A Glimpse into the future of agriculture, An Urban Farm Tower in France.