According to the Drought in Numbers, 2022 report, released at the ongoing 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the frequency and duration of drought has increased at an alarming rate around the world since the turn of the century.

The report has revealed that many parts of India fall under the list of regions that are vulnerable to drought globally. India is also included in the UN assessment’s Global Drought Vulnerability Index.


About the Drought in Numbers report

  • It is a collection of data on the effects of droughts on our ecosystem and how they can be mitigated through efficient planning for the future.
  • The latest assessment analysed droughts and impacts on life and livelihood over 122 years covering 196 countries.
  • It also helps inform negotiations surrounding key decisions by the UNCCD’s 197 member parties at the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15), currently underway in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire.


About UNCCD –

  • Established in 1994, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment and development to sustainable land management.
  • The Convention addresses specifically the arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, known as the drylands, where some of the most vulnerable ecosystems and peoples can be found.
  • It is the only convention stemming from a direct recommendation of the Rio Conferences Agenda 21.
  • In India, The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change is the nodal Ministry for this Convention.


About COP15

  • UNCCD’s COP15 focuses on desertification, land degradation, and drought, with the theme for the conference being “Land. Life. Legacy: From scarcity to prosperity”.
  • Drought, land restoration, and related aspects such as land rights, gender equality and youth empowerment are among the top considerations at COP15.
  • The conference brings together government representatives, private sector members, and civil society stakeholders to ensure that land continues to benefit present and future generations.


India’s stand at CoP15 UNCCD

  • India highlighted at CoP15 UNCCD that the Covid-19 pandemic has “compounded the challenge of fighting global warming” as economic pressures have delayed progress of climate action around the world.
  • India has issued over 229 million Soil Health Cards to farmers between 2015-2019 which has led to a decline of 8-10% in the use of chemical fertilisers and also raised productivity by 5 to 6%.
  • India endorsed six restoration flagships that target the restoration of 12.5 million hectares of degraded lands, following the global call for the submission of nominations for World Restoration Flagships.
  • India’s rural livelihood programmes towards recovering from the pandemic have also worked towards land restoration, thus underlying the ethos of natural resource conservation and restoration.


Findings of Drought in Numbers report

  • Slow-onset disaster – Droughts account for 15% of natural disasters but resulted in the highest human toll, with approximately 650,000 deaths. More than a billion people around the world were affected by drought in 2000­-19, making it the second worst disaster after flooding.
  • Alarming increase – There has been a 29% increase in the frequency and duration of droughts worldwide since 2000.
  • Geographical spread – Africa was the worst hit, with 134 droughts, of which 70 occurred in East Africa. The largest increase in drought losses is projected in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic regions of Europe.
  • Worrisome future – If predictions of global warming reaching 3°C by 2100 are true, drought losses could be five times higher than today’s levels.
  • Water Scarcity – Almost 3.6 billion people are living in water scarce regions as of today.
  • Climate Change and Population – UNCCD assessment recognised that within the next few decades, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure primarily due to climate change alone (IPCC also noted same), 23 primarily due to population growth and 38 primarily due to the interaction between climate change and population growth.
  • Additional Factors – Water scarcity, declining crop productivity, rise in sea levels, and overpopulation could aggravate the impact of droughts.
  • UNCCD Forecast – UNCCD’s second Global Land Outlook, released recently estimates about 16 million square kilometres of land (the size of South America) will be degraded if current trends continue. According to this estimate, up to 40% of all ice-free land has already been degraded.
  • WHO findings – Globally, approximately 55 million people are directly affected by droughts annually, making it the most serious hazard to livestock and crops.
  • WMO estimates – World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reveals that weather, climate and water hazards have accounted for 50% of all disasters and 45% of all reported deaths since 1970.


India specific findings

  • Increase in area – India’s drought-prone area has increased by 57% since 1997. Drought affected nearly two-thirds of the country from 2020 to 2022.
  • Increase in intensity – Over the last decade, one-third of India’s districts have experienced more than four droughts, and drought affects 50 million people each year.
  • Comparison with Africa – Drought vulnerability in India is comparable to that of Sub-Saharan Africa.
  • ISRO evaluation – According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, released in 2021 by the Space Applications Centre of ISRO, 97.85 million hectares i.e., nearly 30% of the country’s land was degraded during 2018-19.
  • Flash Droughts – According to the paper published recently in Nature Communications, India is a hotspot for flash droughts and this could have major implications on the country’s crop production.
      • Flash droughts have been defined in two ways, either as a short-lived yet severe event where soil moisture completely depletes or a multi-week period of rapid intensification toward drought. It is sometimes also defined as a rapidly developing drought event.