Climate change | Drought alert

Lack of water, lack of rainfall, poor harvests: drought is hitting the planet hard. Its effects are felt in many countries. It may even threaten peace in certain regions of the world.

Posted at 5:00 am

Delphine Belzel

Delphine Belzel

The four corners of the world are under threat

California, United States

Drought now covers nearly 50% of the United States, reports the Integrated National Drought Information System, which tracks drought data across the country. As of May 31, the government agency has reported that 90 million people have been affected and more than 170 million acres of farmland disabled.

Photo by Josh Edelson, The Associated Press

A faucet leaked near a boat dock in drought-stricken Lake Folsom, California.

California’s water supply is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. In fact, 30% of Southern California residents are threatened with running out of water while the State Water Project, a public water distribution system, says it will not be able to meet demand in the coming months. In the spring, millions of residents were invited to reduce their water consumption by 20-30%.


In France, soil drying increased while Météo France recorded a rainfall deficit of 45% this spring. In 2021, 23 French departments were subject to water consumption restrictions by the Ministry of Environmental Transformation. Already twice the number of departments affected by drought this year.

Photo SéBASTIEN BOZON, AFP archive

In the summer of 2020, the Dobb family in France was at its lowest level in more than 100 years.

There are four levels of water restrictions in France: vigil, alert, vigil, and crisis. Eight departments are already subject to crisis restrictions that allow water withdrawals only for civil security, health, drinking water and sanitation purposes. Thus, water consumption in agriculture is severely restricted, which leads to crop disruption. The Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty has increased permitted spending by water agencies by €100 million (about C$135 million) to improve the agricultural sector’s resilience to climate change.

France is not the only country in Europe suffering from drought. At the beginning of June, Portugal recorded the highest temperatures in May since 1931. The country also confirmed that 97% of the land was now in a state of “serious drought”.


According to the United Nations, India’s GDP fell by 2-5% due to the drought that swept the country in the wake of severe heat waves that reached 45.7 degrees Celsius in Rajasthan in April, according to the Indian Meteorological Service. On May 13, the country announced the suspension of wheat exports to protect its population from food insecurity.

Photo by Brian Denton, The New York Times

The soil in Uttar Pradesh, India, is too dry to produce enough food for the population.

Since 2010, more than 6,500 people have died from extreme temperatures, according to Agence France-Presse.

India is 30 times more likely to be exposed to extreme heat due to climate change, says the World Weather Attribution of Scientists. Britain’s Met Office said temperatures in May set a record in the north of the country, not seen since 1966.

Santiago Chile

The Chilean capital, Santiago, will for the first time in its history impose a water rationing plan due to the lack of rainfall this year.

Photo by Evan Alvarado, Reuters

The Mapocho River, which runs through Santiago, Chile, is almost dry.

Official reports said the flow of the Mapocho River, which runs through Santiago, fell by 57% last year. Chile’s Center for Climate and Resilience Research has recorded a 30% decrease in precipitation nationwide in the past decade.

Horn of Africa

Drought continues to threaten food security in East Africa. The number of food insecure people jumped 30% between May and April, from 29 million to 40 million, according to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.

Photo by Brian Enganga, The Associated Press

Two girls pulling barrels full of water. Northern Kenya is currently affected by drought.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network notes that there has never been such a lack of rainfall in the Horn of Africa in the past 70 years between March and May.

The Kingdom of Morocco

North Africa is similarly shaken by drought. The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture reports a 35% decrease in rainfall since April compared to last year. It is estimated that cereal production will decline by 69% in 2022. Morocco expects favorable conditions for harvesting fruits and vegetables, but still expects a 14% decline in agricultural GDP.

Photo by Fadel Sina, Agence France-Presse

The waters are low in the Abd El Moumen dam basin, about 60 km from the Moroccan city of Agadir.

with AFP

“the situation is dangerous”

Climate change and the ever-increasing population are putting pressure on the world’s water supply. Countries are now trying to adapt to this new reality.

Why are droughts more frequent?

The short answer is: because of climate change. “It’s really important to look at climate change as a series of extreme events,” says Chris Funk, director of the Climate Risk Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Global climate patterns remain the same, but extreme events are more important.

In California, for example, it’s raining more and more in the Nevada mountains, says Elaine Bruno, a professor in the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Resources Management. Snow masses that usually accumulate during the winter provide a water supply for the summer. She explains that global warming is reducing natural water reservoirs, forcing the region to deplete groundwater.

PhotoRich Pedroncelli, The Associated Press

A watercraft in the waters of Lake Oroville, California that works to reduce drought rates

What about our water consumption?

A growing population is increasing pressure on water everywhere in the world, explains Hossein Bunakdari, associate professor in the Department of Soils and Food Engineering at Université Laval. Climate change is forcing the community to review its water consumption, as it has been found that the amount of water available is less than the demand during droughts.

Back in California, rural areas are highly vulnerable to global warming. Elaine Bruno explains that not all of them are supported by an urban water service and rely on natural reservoirs of water that dry up every year. The state must then transfer drinking water to these communities.

Have we reached the point of no return?

“The situation is serious, we have to be careful,” Hossein Bunakdari says.

Only in Canada, did the temperature reach a new record high in June 2021, at 49.6°C in British Columbia. In 2018, the equivalent of 1.2 million Olympic swimming pools were needed to irrigate the country’s farmland, a 74% increase in water consumption compared to 2012, according to Statistics Canada. Much of southern Canada’s wilds are already experiencing “extreme drought” and “extreme drought” conditions, according to the Canada Drought Monitoring Tool (CDT).

Hussain Bunakdari asserts that “model expectations of climate change show that it will increase in the future, especially in the southern Canadian prairies.”

The situation in Africa is alarming, says Linda Ogalo, a climate change adaptation expert at the Intergovernmental Authority on Development in Djibouti, because poverty makes societies more vulnerable to climate change. While some countries are preparing for the worst, others are already suffering the consequences. She said there must be a common vision to confront the drought.

Is water shortage likely to lead to more conflicts?

yes. In arid regions where water is already scarce, drought increases competition and conflict between these regions, Hossein Bunakdari explains.

The examples are many. The conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia is currently progressing as the Ethiopian dam is working to reduce the flow of water in the Nile River, as it claimed. In the Middle East, the Euphrates, which flows through Syria and Iraq, is drying up due to the Ataturk Dam in Turkey. Upstream countries benefit from water control, Hossein Bunakdari points out. “You have to think of all the people in the final stages of improving resource management.”

How do you adapt to this new reality?

Experts say climate model prediction technology is a much-needed way to adapt to drought. Some systems are already predicting ocean temperature six to eight months in advance, Chris Funk says. These systems make it possible to operate upstream, to meet the needs of communities and to better manage the risks associated with droughts.

“Take for example the amount of energy to heat a pot of water. It takes a lot of energy to heat it up. So the energy required to heat the oceans is enormous. It doesn’t change quickly. We can then predict events with great accuracy,” he explains.

According to Chris Funk, being able to warn farmers of the coming extreme heat in remote parts of Africa would be a great feat. He asserts that prediction models are mainly developed in Western environments, while the use of data for disadvantaged arid environments is only necessary.

Are forecasting models sufficient?

Although the prediction models are promising, they do not respond to the climate emergency in developing countries, notes Linda Ogalo. Communities in Africa are already suffering from food insecurity and poverty due to drought. It shows that climate prediction technology is not sufficient to provide vulnerable communities with resilience to climate change. ” [La sécheresse] Not tomorrow’s problem, but today’s issue. »

“We must stop seeing Africans as a people of weak beggars, but instead as a people with the power to make a difference in the world.”

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