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Drought is a creeping, slow-onset natural hazard that is a normal part of climate for virtually all regions of the world; it results in serious economic, social, and environmental impacts. Its onset and end are often difficult to determine, as is its severity. Drought affects more people than any other natural hazard. Lessons from developed and developing countries demonstrate that drought results in significant impacts, regardless of level of development, although the character of these impacts will differ profoundly. At the Meeting on Opportunities for Sustainable Investment in Rainfed Areas of West Asia and North Africa (WANA), held in June 2001 in Rabat, Morocco, participants (including ministerial delegations of 13 countries of the WANA region) concluded that the primary keys to development of drylands in the region were reducing rural poverty, arresting natural resource degradation, accelerating economic growth, diversifying economic opportunities, and enhancing food security. The recurrence of persistent drought was identified as one of the obstacles to achieving these aims. The economic, social, and environmental challenges of drought in developed countries are also significant. Recent droughts in the United States, Canada, and Australia, for example, have resulted in serious impacts in the agriculture, transportation, and energy sectors and also serious water use conflicts and environmental impacts.
The impacts of drought, like those of other natural hazards, can be reduced through mitigation and preparedness. Drought preparedness should be an integral part of water resources management. Drought risk is a product of a region’s or community’s exposure to the natural hazard and its vulnerability to extended periods of water shortage. If nations, regions, and communities are to make progress in reducing the serious consequences of drought, they must improve their understanding of the hazard and the factors that influence vulnerability. The hazard or natural event is best characterized by the frequency of meteorological drought at different levels of intensity and duration, and this frequency is projected to increase for some regions in the future as a result of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It critical for drought-prone regions to better understand the drought climatology of their region and establish comprehensive and integrated early warning systems that incorporate climate, soil, and water supply factors such as precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, snow pack, reservoir and lake levels, groundwater levels, and stream flow. An integrated early warning system can provide timely and reliable information to decision makers from farm to national level to aid in reducing the impacts of drought.