Drought and its impact on Africa

WHAT IS A DROUGHT?

A drought is a period of low rainfall in a certain region or area. Such periods result in a lack of water supplies. Droughts can last for months or years, or can disappear after as few as 15 days.

Droughts can have a great impact on people and the environment, and can harm the local economy. Shortages of rainwater can affect agriculture, energy supplies and stores of drinking water for people to use.

HOW ARE DROUGHTS CAUSED?

Droughts are caused by low levels of rainfall. Mostly within Africa, droughts will occur during the dry season. This occurs between November and February within Sub-Saharan Africa. During this period the wind carries more dry air from the landmass of Africa, rather than wet air from the oceans. This means that less rain can form. When added to the hot and dry conditions that already occur in many regions, even less rainfall will create droughts.
Climate Change and Global Warming (the long-term warming of both the atmosphere and oceans across the world) also affect droughts. By making rainfall higher in some areas and lower in others, Climate Change can cause droughts to happen more often.

WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF DROUGHTS?

Through a lack of rainfall, droughts can cause farming yields to fall. If temperatures are too high then many types of crops will fail and die. Similar lack of water and heat will cause livestock to die. These effects have very a bad impact on farmers, reducing the food they produce and the crops they can sell. If fewer crops survive then food security will reduce for everyone in Africa. This means that the price of food rises so that many might not be able to afford to eat.
Very high temperatures can also cause wildfires to start. As droughts cause vegetation to dry out, they are at much higher risk of catching fire. These fires can spread quickly over large areas, especially if there is a strong wind. Wildfires cause huge economic problems, burning crops as well as destroying buildings. Damage to the environment and to the animals and plants that live in it can also lower income from tourism.
Droughts can reduce the spread of diseases that come from water sources like cholera. However, they often cause greater spread of diseases through the air such as measles. These diseases are much more dangerous within warm conditions and can spread very easily.
The growth of ‘hydro-electric’ power in Africa (creating electricity by using running water) is also affected by drought. With less rainfall, less water is available in rivers and streams to power the creation of electricity. This can lead to power cuts in towns and cities.

WAYS OF REDUCING THE IMPACT OF DROUGHTS

There are lots of ways to try to reduce the impacts of droughts. For farmers, planting several types of crop during a drought season may improve food security. If a drought occurs then only some of the crops may die with more hardy types surviving.
Collecting and storing rainwater helps for future droughts. Farmers can use this stored water to help keep their crops and livestock healthy during dry periods. Pumps can be used to draw water out from deep underground. Irrigation (moving water to crops on farmland) can be used to transport this water to crops.
Using other energy sources such as solar power (using sunlight to create electricity) would lessen the problems of drought on hydro-power. The hot and dry weather caused by droughts means that there is a lot of sunlight for use in solar power.

BENEDICT MACLEOD

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