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India’s Silent Killer 'Droughts' Reduced GDP by up to 5% in 20 years

India was identified as one of the most severely drought-affected countries in the assessment. Drought affected nearly two-thirds of the country from 2020 to 2022. India is included in the assessment's Global Drought Vulnerability Index.

Shivam Dwivedi
Drought Affected Land
Drought Affected Land

According to the Drought in Numbers, 2022 report, released May 11 at the ongoing 15th Conference of Parties (CoP15) to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the frequency and duration of drought has increased at an alarming rate around the world since the turn of the century (UNCCD).

The most recent assessment examined droughts and their effects on life and livelihoods over a 122-year period spanning 196 countries. According to the report, an entirely new generation is growing up with "water scarcity."

India was identified as one of the most severely drought-affected countries in the assessment. Drought affected nearly two-thirds of the country from 2020 to 2022. India is included in the assessment's Global Drought Vulnerability Index. Drought vulnerability in India is comparable to that of Sub-Saharan Africa.

"The impact of severe droughts was estimated to have reduced India's GDP by 2-5 percent over the 20-year period from 1998 to 2017," according to the assessment. As per sources, India's drought-prone area has increased by 57% since 1997. Over the last decade, one-third of India's districts have experienced more than four droughts, and drought affects 50 million people each year.

According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas of India, released last year by the Space Applications Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation, 97.85 million hectares — nearly 30% of the country's land — were degraded during 2018-19.

Drought has an impact on India's primarily rainfed agriculture, which accounts for 60% of the sown area on average. Drought is a major factor in keeping people below the poverty line indefinitely, according to a study conducted by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and the Japan International Research Centre for Agricultural Sciences in collaboration with research organizations in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha.

Farmers in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Odisha lost nearly $400 million during a severe drought year, according to a 2006 study. According to the study, nearly 13 million people in the three states who live just above the poverty line have fallen below it due to drought-related income loss.

There has been a 29% increase in the frequency and duration of droughts worldwide since 2000. Drought is considered a slow-onset disaster, giving ample time to prepare. However, among weather-related disasters, drought has emerged as one of the leading causes of human death and economic loss in recent decades.

"There is an upward trajectory in the duration of droughts and the severity of impacts, affecting not only human societies but also the ecological systems on which all life depends, including our own," said Ibrahim Thiaw, executive secretary of the UNCCD.

"Droughts account for 15% of natural disasters but resulted in the highest human toll, with approximately 650,000 deaths." "From 1970 to 2019," the assessment stated. Drought has killed over 10 million people over the last century.

A major topic of discussion at the ongoing CoP15 is developing a plan to restore a billion hectares of degraded land by 2030. The UNCCD has received pledges from 128 countries to achieve land degradation neutrality.

Of these, 70 have agreed to participate in the UNCCD's Drought Initiative, which requires countries to take a mitigation approach to avert drought, including curbing land degradation.

According to the UNCCD's second Global Land Outlook, released on April 27, "some 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.

With the drought, a period of severe water scarcity has begun. According to the UNCCD assessment, more than 2.3 billion people will face water scarcity by 2022. "Almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts" as a result of this.

"By 2050, droughts may affect more than three-quarters of the world's population, with an estimated 4.8-5.7 billion people living in water-scarce areas for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today," the report concluded a new report.

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by water scarcity. According to the UNCCD report, people in drylands "spend up to 40% of their calorific intake carrying water" every day. Droughts will become more common as a result of climate change, according to the IPCC.

According to the UNCCD assessment, "within the next few decades, 129 countries will experience an increase in drought exposure primarily due to climate change alone — 23 primarily due to population growth and 38 primarily due to the interaction between climate change and population growth."

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