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Global Drought: What do Argentina, Australia, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia, The Middle-East, China and Parts of India and U.S. Have in Common?

China: wheat crop failure

China: wheat crop failure

It is a one-size-fits-all news story, good for almost any part of the world right now: Cue the video to a farmer standing in a field of parched and stunted plants. Then cut to b-roll of cattle carcasses dotting the landscape, rivers barely trickling, reservoirs sinking fast and caked mud at the bottom of village wells. Under unrelentingly cheerful skies, tell a tale of thirst, hunger, devastation and death.

Kenya: 2 years, no rain

Kenya: 2 years, no rain

A drought is a stealth disaster. There are no headline-grabbing satellite images of hurricane swirls, no “iReporter” videos of towns blown apart by tornados, no families perched on roofs desperate to escape rising floodwaters, no photographs of cities buried under snow. A drought has a different, much slower rhythm. The signs — a warming ocean, a shift in the wind — are subtle. But the effects can reverberate across continents, last for years, even decades, and spare nothing in its path.

Argentina: dying cattle

Argentina: dying cattle

Like recessions, droughts are declared official well after serious damage has already been done. It takes time for a patch of pleasant sunny weather to morph into a severe drought. And although scientists have become better at interpreting data for predictions (reading teak rings in Indonesia), options for prevention remain pretty much non-existent. Whether or not man-made climate change is at least in part responsible for the current spike in droughts — as many suspect — the odds of man changing the climate back any time soon are pretty slim.

Taking more of an address-the-symptom-never-mind-the-cause approach, the Chinese bullied a few inches of snow to fall in Beijing by assaulting the heavens with a barrage of  silver iodide-loaded cloud-seeding missiles. But beyond a brief uptick in the number of  tourists at the Great Wall and a little frosty fun in the city, not much changed.

Australia: the "big dry"

Australia: the "big dry"

Meanwhile, the best plan to prepare for lean harvests remains the old biblical stand-by of stashing away surplus reserves from good harvests. But what do you do when global grain stores are running low and almost every “bread basket” farming region in the world is buckling under the same wilting weather report?

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  • Australia: Roughly 40% of the harvest, including $13.5 in exports sold mostly to Asia and the Middle-East, comes from the drought-plagued Murray Darling basin. Irrigated crops such as rice and grapes have been particularly had hit, but even native eucalyptus trees have taken a hit, with a staggering 80% stressed or dead. Water reserves are at just 16% of capacity. To make matters worse, algae are blooming and fish are dying in the warmth of shallower waters.
  • The Middle-East: Australia’s bleak harvest is especially bad news here since the region is reeling under its own extreme drought. Annual rainfall totals in Jordan are down over 70%, while Israel experiencing its hottest, driest winter in 60 years. In Iraq, the marshlands of Garden of Eden and Marsh Arab fame are drying up. Water wars are heating up in comparatively moist Lebanon, exacerbated by out-of-date irrigation systems and a growing population. Everything is that much worse in the West Bank and Gaza with the Palestine Water Authority calling the situation “dangerous.”
  • Kenya & Somalia: According to the World Food Program, 10 million people in Kenya are in urgent need of food aid. The impact of drought has been magnified by political violence and a fractured infrastructure. People are being forced to walk further and further – at great personal risk – simply to get water. It hasn’t rained in two years, the maize harvest is a complete bust and what little ground cover has managed to grow isn’t enough to support livestock. Just over the border in Somalia, the situation is just as dire. Families by the thousands are pouring into urban areas desperate for help. Meanwhile, some aid organizations have reportedly left the area due to fighting between Islamists and pro-government forces.

(* twitter-friendly url: http://tinyurl.com/cz8hqb)

One Response

  1. Interesting. You can just can it and reprint/re-broadcast.

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