Consequences of Drought: Short and Long Term
Regardless of a drought's stage, there are short and long term consequences with any drought because of nature and society's dependence on water. Problems associated with drought can have economic, environmental, and social impacts on both the areas where they occur and areas that have relations with those where the drought happens.
Most of the economic impacts of drought are associated with agriculture and the income generated from crops. In times of drought, the lack of water can often cause a decline in crop yields, and thus a reduction in income for farmers and an increase in the market price of products since there is less to go around. In a prolonged drought, unemployment of farmers and even retailers can occur, having a significant impact on the economy of the area and those with economic ties to it.
In terms of environmental problems, drought can result in insect infestations and plant diseases, increased erosion, habitat and landscape degradation, a decrease in air quality and that of what water is present, as well as an increased risk of fire because of drier vegetation. In short-term droughts, natural environments can often rebound, but when there are long term droughts, plant and animal species can suffer tremendously, and over time desertification can happen with an extreme lack of moisture.
Finally, droughts have social impacts that can cause disputes between users of available water, inequalities in water distribution between wealthy and poor, disparities in areas in need of disaster relief, and a decline in health.
In addition, in rural developing countries population migration can begin when one area experiences drought because often people will go to areas where water and its benefits are more prevalent. This then depletes the natural resources of the new area, can create conflicts among neighboring populations, and takes workers away from the original area. Over time, increased poverty and social unrest is likely to develop.
Drought Mitigation Measures
Because severe drought is often slow in its development, it is relatively easy to tell when one is coming and in areas that are capable, there are several mitigation measures that can be used to reduce the impacts felt by drought.
The most important steps in lessening the effects of drought though are soil and water conservation. By protecting soil, it is better able to absorb precipitation, but it can also help farmers to use less water because it is absorbed and not as much runs off. It also creates less water pollution by the pesticides and fertilizers present in most farm runoff.
In water conservation, public use is often regulated. This mostly includes watering yards, washing cars and outdoor fixtures such as patio tables, and swimming pools. Cities such as Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada have also implemented the use of xeriscape landscaping to reduce the need to water outdoor plants in dry environments. In addition, Water conservation devices like low-flow toilets, shower heads, and washing machines can be required for use inside the home.
Finally, desalination of seawater, water recycling, and rainwater harvesting are all things that are currently under development to build on existing water supplies and further reduce the impacts of drought in dry climates. Whatever method is used however, extensive monitoring of precipitation and water usage are the best way to prepare for a drought, inform the public on the problem, and implement conservation strategies.