At least 34 African countries were affected by drought from 2015 to 2016, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which notes that more than 250,000 people perished from hunger in the 2011 drought in Somalia.
FAO Director-General Jos da Silva told an international seminar in Rome that the need for a global drought re-boot was pressing, pointing out that the many impacts of drought was not only hunger and instability but economic losses up to eight billion US dollars each year.
He added that “as the planet’s climate changes, severe dry-spells are becoming more and more frequent”, according to an FAO statement received here Monday.
“Since the 1970s, the land area in the world affected by situations of drought has doubled and the burden is especially high in developing countries, where agriculture remains an economic mainstay.
“Over 80 per cent of damage and losses caused by drought are born by agriculture in the developing world, and Africa in particular has borne the brunt because between 2005 and 2016, 34 African nations were affected.”
During the seminar, the FAO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to deepen their cooperation.
Da Silva said the two organizations would co-operate in improving agro-meteorological data, tools and methods, as well as enhance access by small farmers to products and services to help them anticipate and proactively prepare for droughts.
Investing in preparedness and building the resilience of farmers is fundamental to cope with extreme drought, because responding to such situations when they hit might be too late, he said, stressing that people die not because they are not prepared to face the impacts of drought, but because their livelihoods are not resilient enough.
“Saving livelihoods means saving lives, this is what building resilience is all about,” he added, noting that for years, the focus has been responding to droughts when they happen, rushing to provide emergency assistance and to keep people alive.
While these emergency responses are important, investing in preparedness and resilience puts countries on a footing to act quickly before it is too late, meaning that farmers and rural communities are better positioned to cope with extreme weather when it does hit.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, said: “WMO provides guidance and scientific information to strengthen national services responsible for addressing drought risks to agriculture. We encourage countries to take early action against drought and to move toward a more proactive approach.”
International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) President Gilbert Houngbo emphasised the need to break the cycle of crisis, disaster and relief and called on the international community to be proactive and to think not just of today’s emergencies, but also of how to prevent tomorrow’s.
“This means investing in smallholder farmers to help them address productivity challenges, give them access to markets and finance and most importantly encourage climate-smart agriculture so that when the drought inevitably comes, they have the tools they need to survive and thrive,” Houngbo said.