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close this bookPreparing for Drought: A Guidebook for Developing Countries (UNEP, 1992, 80 p.)
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View the documentINTRODUCTION
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"Drought-prone countries should develop drought response plans for drought monitoring, establishment of selected indices for the identification of thresholds for onset and cessation of drought and for following the impact of drought in all areas of the economy especially in agriculture, water supply, energy and industry" (Obasi, 1986).

"Even if we cannot stop drought from occurring or cannot fulfill occasional political or scientific promises to drought-proof an area, there are ways either to protect more vulnerable countries or to prepare them to be better able to cope when such situations recur. These countries... need... drought preparedness training, drought-technology and transfer of drought-coping mechanisms" (Glantz and Degefu, 1990).

"A national drought policy is strongly needed to coordinate federal response to the possibility of increased frequency and duration of future droughts due to climate change. Even without climate change, such a policy is needed not only for the agricultural sector but also for other sectors" (Smith and Tirpak, 1989).

Post-drought audits of government response to drought have demonstrated that the reactive or crisis management approach has led to ineffective, poorly coordinated, and untimely responses. These deficiencies were illustrated in this guidebook through case studies of Zimbabwe, the Philippines, Brazil, India, South Africa, the United States, and Australia. The magnitude of economic, social, and environmental losses in the past decade or so in these and many other countries has pointed out the vulnerability of all nations to extended episodes of severe drought. Increased awareness and understanding of drought has led many governments to take a more proactive approach toward drought management by attempting to reduce impacts in the short term and vulnerability in the long term. This approach must integrate drought policy with issues of sustainable development.

This guidebook documents some of the recent progress made in developing and developed countries in preparing for drought. Each of the case studies exhibited an evolving, yet substantive, philosophical change by government in their approach to drought management. The development of drought policies that promote risk management and the preparation of contingency plans exemplify these changes and represent a positive step toward risk minimization and vulnerability reduction. Drought contingency plans promote greater coordination within and between levels of government; improved procedures for monitoring, assessing, and responding to severe water shortages; and more efficient use of natural, financial, and human resources.

It is recommended that the governments of all drought-prone nations immediately proceed to formulate drought plans. The essential elements to consider in the formulation of these plans were presented in a ten-step process. The first step in the proposed planning process is the appointment of a national drought commission (NDC) to supervise and coordinate the development of the plan. Although the make-up of the NDC would vary considerably from country to country, it should include representatives from the most relevant mission agencies. The leadership of the NDC is critical since this group oversees all aspects of plan development.

The NDC, as their first official action, will proceed to formulate a national drought policy and the purpose and objectives of the plan (Step 2). In most settings the commission will also need to include a formal mechanism to reduce conflict between environmental and economic sectors during periods of shortage (Step 3). In order to ensure that the views of citizens, public, and environmental interest groups are considered in the planning process, it may be helpful to form drought advisory committees to incorporate their concerns and ensure their participation and support in the process. The NDC will also need to undertake an inventory of natural, biological, and human resources available and determine financial and legal constraints that may exist with regard to plan formulation and implementation (Step 4).

The actual development of the plan begins with Step 5. A drought plan possesses three essential elements: monitoring, impact assessment, and response. These elements are the basis for three committees: (1) Water Inventory and Outlook Committee; (2) Impact Assessment Committee; and (3) National Drought Commission. The organizational and operational responsibilities of these committees were specified in considerable detail. During plan development, the NDC should identify research needs and institutional gaps to strengthen the plan (Step 6). The NDC must also synthesize the scientific and policy issues (Step 7) to determine what is feasible, given the broad range of options and resources available. The culmination of the planning process is the implementation of the drought plan (Step 8). At this point, an organizational structure is in place to address the issues critical to the management of water during periods of shortage. The implementation of the plan should coincide with the peak demand or most drought-sensitive season to take advantage of inherent public interest. The development of multilevel educational and training programs (Step 9) is a long-term effort and will be an ongoing process after the implementation of the plan. Educational programs for all age groups should focus on the full spectrum of water management and conservation issues during drought and nondrought periods. A media awareness program is an important part of this educational process.

The development of drought plan evaluation procedures (Step 10) is the critical final step in the planning process. A drought plan is not a static document, but one that must evolve continuously to meet the needs of a changing society. Two modes of evaluation were recommended. First, an ongoing or operational evaluation program was recommended that considers how new technology, legislation, changes in political leadership, and so forth may affect the operation of the plan and the need to revise operating procedures. The second recommendation calls for a post-drought evaluation program that documents and critically analyzes the assessment and response actions of government and recommends actions for improving the plan. This post-drought evaluation program attempts to build on the successes of the past while eliminating the failures. The post-drought evaluation process should be initiated soon after the drought has ended to take advantage of and preserve institutional memory.

Drought is a normal part of climate. Planning for drought represents prudent action by governments. Learning to anticipate the occurrence of and respond more effectively to drought will benefit all nations, whether or not projected changes in climate occur in the future. Intergovernmental organizations, international organizations, donor governments, and NGOs are urged to encourage and assist governments in the formulation of drought plans.