Ecology and the Environment

What are the main dangers of droughts?
Answered by HowStuffWorks
  • HowStuffWorks

    HowStuffWorks

  1. The National Drought Mitigation Center says "drought is when you have less rainfall than you expected over an extended period of time, usually several months or longer." While droughts occur almost every year in many parts of the world, climate change and global warming have had a definite effect on drought conditions. Scientists believe that drought conditions may increase by nearly 66 percent as global temperatures rise [source: Scientific American]. As droughts get more frequent and intense, unprepared areas of the world can suffer catastrophic water shortages, leading to destroyed crops and even starvation. Serious drought conditions can even lead to increased chances of major disease outbreaks.

    Something else to consider -- even if water shortages aren't catastrophic during a drought, they nonetheless puts an obvious strain on community water management efforts. One of water management's greatest challenges is to figuring out how to handle the water use for a growing population. As more people move into an area, there is more usage and more pollution, and that's not even considering times when water supplies might be down due specifically to drought. Instead, the population growth alone can tax a community's water resources, possibly leaving the area with an insufficient water supply for its residents -- usage restrictions, anyone? -- and its local ecosystems. There may also be limits to the volume of used water that the community's water treatment plants can handle. The latter problem creates the potential for polluted water to find its way back into the natural ecosystem.

    Given the harm droughts can cause, and the strain they can place on already strained resources, it would probably help if we had a better idea when they might occur, so we could prepare for the increased water demand. Unfortunately, we aren't able to predict drought conditions terribly far into the future -- not much more than a couple of months. It's tied, of course, to predictions about precipitation and temperature. However, research into changes in tropical sea temperatures and how they impact global weather changes may hold some promise for predicting drought conditions [source: National Drought Mitigation Center].

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