Compared with earthquakes and cyclones, which are sudden ‘intensive’ risks, droughts are considered ‘extensive’ risks with slower-onset, repeated or persistent conditions of low or moderate intensity. They are often highly localized and operate over longer timescales – with large, cumulative impacts on widely dispersed populations. Due to their slow onset and persistence, however, droughts, are often under-reported and receive relatively little attention from policy-makers. For example, over the past 30 years, droughts have affected over 66 million people in South-East Asia. The most severe events have been during the El Niño years. Most of the economic impact of drought – around four-fifths – is absorbed by agriculture. However, the impact extends beyond agriculture. Through both demand and production, agriculture is linked with industry and services.
The socio-economic and environmental impacts of droughts have increased significantly, particularly among the most vulnerable groups in Asia and the Pacific. The tragic consequences of drought include:
- Loss of human life and livelihoods
- Reduced water and food security
- Increase in debt among farmers
- Deepening poverty with intergenerational consequences
- Farmer suicides
- Potential for unrest and violence
- Land degradation and desertification
In order to save lives and livelihoods, time is of the essence. ESCAP's focus on drought is proactive, not reactive, as taking action once drought has occurred is more costly and less effective than acting preemptively. Signs of drought can be observed from space long before they are visible to the human eye on the ground. Therefore, integration of space-derived data and land-based information is a vital in combating drought. However, there is a lack of resources and capacity to perform such analysis in many drought-prone developing countries.
Through the Regional Drought Mechanism, which is a flagship programme under ESCAP’s long standing Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP), timely and free access to space-based data/products and tailored services/capacity building are provided to countries in the region to support evidence-based decisions on response to drought. This can also translate to strengthening water management, adjusting crop cycles, planting drought resistant seeds and initiating timely relief measures.