Droughts occur when a long period of abnormally dry weather leads to a severe water shortage. Droughts are also often caused by the activity of humans and can have devastating effects.
Human activities causing drought
Human activities that can help trigger droughts include:
- Widespread cutting down of trees for fuel reduces the soil’s ability to hold water – drying out the ground, triggering desertification and leading to drought.
- Constructing a dam on a large river may help provide electricity and water to irrigate farmland near the reservoir. However, it may also cause drought downstream by severely reducing the flow of water.
Effects of drought
Parched ground during drought in Namibia
- Droughts endanger lives and livelihoods through thirst, hunger (due to crops dying from lack of water) and the spread of disease.
- Millions of people died in the 20th century due to severe drought and famines. One of the worst hit areas was the Sahel region of Africa, which covers parts of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan.
- Droughts and famines can have other geographical impacts. If drought forces people to migrate to a new home it could put pressure on resources in neighboring countries.
- Droughts can have a severe impact on MEDCs as well as LEDCs. Droughts have caused deaths in Europe in recent years – especially among the elderly. In the UK in summer 2006, there were hose-pipe bans and campaigns to make people save water.