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Droughts in the Anthropocene – impacts and solutions

21 November 2019

A new drought-monitoring tool was presented, together with 15 case studies from around the world showcasing the social, environmental and cultural impacts of droughts and water scarcity, by UNESCO’s International Hydrological Programme (IHP) on 18 November 2019. The presentation was a side event of the 40th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO. 

Droughts are slow-onset natural hazards that can last from a few months to decades and affect anything from small watersheds to hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. In addition to their direct impacts on water resources, agriculture and ecosystems, droughts are potential catalysts for fires, heatwaves and invasive incursions, thereby creating multi-hazard environments and furthering the impact on and vulnerability of ecosystems and societies. 

Though droughts are natural events, there is an increasing understanding of how humans have amplified their severity and worsened their effects on both the environment and human populations. Humans have altered both meteorological droughts through human-induced climate change and hydrological droughts by changing of water movement and processes, for example by diverting rivers or changing land use. In the Anthropocene (the ongoing period in which humans are the dominant influence on climate and the environment), droughts are closely entwined with human actions, cultures and responses.

The case studies, developed by IHP and GRID-Arendal, were presented through a series of videos highlighting solutions provided by the collaboration between scientists and local communities, and the significant work of UNESCO-IHP in bridging science with society and policy makers to better address the impact of droughts worldwide. The videos also feature youth action on climate change and focuses on the work done by young water scientists and professionals. They are displayed at UNESCO until 27 November 2019, and are available online. The case studies are also presented in a new publication, “Droughts in the Anthropocene”, which was formally launched during the event. 

The web-based, interactive drought-monitoring platform provides real-time and forecast information on weather and drought conditions around the world, as well as detailed information from each of the case studies. The platform was developed by the University of Southampton.

 

The event was organized in partnership with GRID Arendal (Norway), the University of Southampton and the U.S. National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), and co-sponsored by the UNESCO/Flanders Funds-in-Trust for the Support of UNESCO’s activities in the Field of Science. 
The dignitaries in attendance of the opening included Mr Youssef Filali-Meknassi, Director, Division of Water Sciences and Secretary of the IHP, UNESCO, Mr Kris Dierckx, General Representative of the Government of Flanders to UNESCO, Mr Abdin Salih, University of Khartoum, and Mr Gabriel Gertrudes Trindade, Solução para o Tratamento de Água nas Cisternas Instaladas no Brasil (STAC-IBR). The event was moderated by Mr Anil Mishra, Programme Specialist for Hydrological Systems and Water Scarcity, UNESCO. In his opening remarks, Mr Youssef Filali-Meknassi highlighted the role of UNESCO in supporting Member States to address drought-related challenges and management, as well as the significant work of IHP towards bridging the gaps between science, society and policy makers in addressing droughts and their associated impacts.

The side event provided an effective platform to advance the debate on enhancing drought mitigation efforts globally, as well as to raise awareness on the effects of drought. Mr Justin Sheffield from the University of Southampton made an interactive presentation of the features of the drought monitoring platform to participants. 

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