climate change | drought alert

Water scarcity, lack of precipitation, crop losses: drought is hitting the planet hard. Its effects can be felt in many countries. And it could even threaten peace in certain regions of the world.

Posted at 5:00 am

Delphine Belzile

Delphine Belzile
The press

The four corners of the world in danger

California, United States

Drought now blankets nearly 50% of the United States, reports the National Integrated Drought Information System, which tracks drought data across the country. On May 31, the government agency reported that 90 million people had been affected and more than 170 million acres of farmland had been disrupted.

Photo Josh Edelson, Associated Press

A faucet is leaking near the boat docks on Lake Folsom in California, a drought-stricken state.

California’s water supplies are becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. In fact, 30% of Southern California’s population is at risk of running out of water, while the State Water Project, a public water supply system, says it won’t be able to meet demand in the coming months. In the spring, millions of residents were called upon to reduce their water consumption by 20 to 30%.


In France, the drying of the soil is increasing, while Météo France recorded a rainfall deficit of 45% this spring. In 2021, 23 French departments were subject to water use restrictions by the Ministry of Ecological Transition. Twice as many departments have been affected by the drought this year.

Photo SéBASTIEN BOZON, Agence France-Presse archives

In the summer of 2020, the Doubs in France was at its lowest level in over 100 years.

There are four levels of water restrictions in France: vigilance, alert, heightened alert and crisis. Eight departments are already subject to crisis restrictions that only allow the withdrawal of water for purposes of civil security, public health, drinking water and sanitation. Water use for agriculture is therefore severely restricted, disrupting harvests. The Department of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty has increased allowable spending by water boards by €100 million (about CAD$135 million) to improve the agricultural sector’s resilience to climate change.

France is not the only country in Europe affected by drought. In early June, Portugal recorded the hottest May since 1931. The state also confirmed that 97% of the territory is now in a “severe drought” situation.


According to the United Nations, India’s gross domestic product (GDP) has fallen by 2-5% due to the drought that hit the country after extreme heatwaves of up to 45.7C in Rajasthan in April, according to the Indian Meteorological Service. The state announced the suspension of wheat exports on May 13 to protect its population from food insecurity.

Photo BRYAN DENTON, The New York Times

The soil in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India is so dry that it cannot produce enough food for the population.

Since 2010, more than 6,500 people have died from extreme heat, Agence France-Presse points out.

According to the scientific association World Weather Attribution, India is 30 times more likely to experience extreme heat due to climate change. May temperatures hit a record high in the north of the country not seen since 1966, Britain’s National Weather Service, the Met Office, said.

Santiago, Chile

Chile’s capital Santiago will impose a water rationing plan for the first time in its history due to low rainfall this year.


The Mapocho River, which flows through Santiago in Chile, is almost dry.

According to official reports, the flow of the Mapocho River, which flows through Santiago, decreased by 57% last year. The Chilean Research Center for Climate and Resilience has recorded a 30% drop in rainfall nationwide over the past decade.

Horn of Africa

Droughts continue to threaten food security in East Africa. The number of people suffering from food insecurity rose 30% from 29 million to 40 million between May and April, the Intergovernmental Agency for Development observes.

Photo Brian Inganga, Associated Press

Two girls pull barrels filled with water. Northern Kenya is currently affected by drought.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network has found that it has never rained so little on the Horn of Africa between March and May in the past 70 years.


North Africa is also being shaken by drought. The Moroccan Ministry of Agriculture has recorded a 35% drop in rainfall since April compared to the previous year. It is estimated that grain production will fall by 69% in 2022. Morocco forecasts favorable conditions for fruit and vegetable harvesting but still expects agricultural GDP to fall by 14%.

Photo FADEL SENNA, Agence France-Presse

The water is low in the Abdelmoumen Dam basin some 60 km from Agadir, Morocco.

With Agence France-Presse

“The situation is serious”

Climate change and ever-increasing population are putting pressure on the world’s water supply. Countries are now trying to adapt to this new reality.

Why are droughts more common?

The short answer is: because of climate change. “It’s really important to see climate change as a series of extreme events,” said Chris Funk, director of the Climate Hazard Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Global climate patterns remain the same, but extreme events are more important.

In California, for example, it’s increasingly raining in the Nevada mountains, says Ellen Bruno, a professor in the University of California’s Department of Agriculture and Resource Management. The snowpack that normally accumulated in winter provided water for the summer. Global warming is reducing natural water reservoirs and forcing the region to deplete groundwater, she explains.

Photo Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

Watercraft in the arid waters of Lake Oroville, California

What about our water consumption?

The growing population is increasing water pressure all over the world, explains Hossein Bonakdari, assistant professor in the Department of Soil and Food Engineering at Laval University. Climate change is forcing society to rethink its water consumption, as it turns out that the amount of water available is less than demand during periods of drought.

Even in California, rural areas are very vulnerable to global warming. They are not all supported by a municipal water supply and rely on natural water reservoirs that run dry every year, explains Ellen Bruno. The state then has to transport drinking water to these communities.

Have we reached a point of no return?

“The situation is serious, we have to be careful,” says Hossein Bonakdari.

Only in Canada did the temperature reach a new record in June 2021 with 49.6 °C in British Columbia. In 2018, the equivalent volume of water from 1.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools was needed to irrigate farmland in the country, representing a 74% increase in water use compared to 2012, Statistics Canada finds. According to the Canadian Drought Monitoring Tool (CDT), a significant portion of the southern Canadian prairies is already in “severe drought” and “extreme drought.”

“Climate change model projections show that it will increase in the future, particularly in the southern Canadian prairies,” confirms Hossein Bonakdari.

In Africa, the situation is alarming because poverty makes communities much more vulnerable to climate change, says Linda Ogallo, climate change adaptation expert at the Intergovernmental Agency for Development in Djibouti. While some countries prepare for the worst, others are already suffering the consequences. There must be a shared vision to counteract droughts, she said.

Is the lack of water likely to lead to more conflicts?

Yes. In arid areas where water is already scarce, the drought is increasing competition and conflict between those regions, Hossein Bonakdari explains.

And the examples are numerous. A conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia is currently raging as an Ethiopian dam is reducing the flow of water in the Nile, sources say. In the Middle East, the Euphrates River, which flows through Syria and Iraq, is drying up due to the Ataturk Dam in Turkey. Upstream countries benefit from water control, notes Hossein Bonakdari. “You have to consider everyone downstream to optimize resource management. »

How to adapt to this new reality?

Climate model forecasting technology is a much-needed way to adapt to drought, experts say. Some systems predict ocean temperatures six to eight months in advance, says Chris Funk. These systems make it possible to act upstream, meet community needs and better manage the risks associated with droughts.

“Take, for example, the amount of energy required to heat a pot of water. It takes a lot of energy to heat it up. The energy required to warm the ocean is therefore enormous. It’s not changing fast. We can then predict events with great precision,” he explains.

According to Chris Funk, being able to warn farmers of imminent extreme heat in remote parts of Africa would be a major achievement. Predictive models are mainly developed in western environments, while using data for disadvantaged arid environments is also necessary, he points out.

Are the forecast models sufficient?

While forecasting models show promise, they don’t respond to the developing world’s climate crisis, notes Linda Ogallo. Already, communities in Africa are suffering from food insecurity and poverty due to drought. Climate prediction technology is not enough to bring climate change resilience to vulnerable communities, she explains. ” [La sécheresse] is not a problem for tomorrow, but a topic for today. »

“We must stop seeing Africans as a people of vulnerable beggars and instead as a people with the potential to change the world. »

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