top of page

What Is Drought And Its Effects?

Updated: Feb 23, 2022

A drought is defined by an extended period where deprivation of precipitation causes water shortage.

Droughts can reach disastrous levels when water resources from lakes and rivers dry out due to the low precipitation. At this stage, a drought is classed as a natural disaster.

The main effects of drought include water shortages, famine, wildfire, disease, and social conflict. Droughts are also detrimental to wildlife. Droughts have instigated mass human and animal migrations, both historically and presently.

Droughts affect the natural balance of a country. They can lead to unusual migration patterns, which have a knock-on effect on the region’s topography.

Extended periods of drought can impact land more profoundly than you would expect. This article will examine the primary and secondary effects of drought.

Read on to find out more.

Droughts primarily cause water shortages

Droughts cause water shortages and subsequent reliance on poor quality water. With limited clean water, people may resort to drinking unhealthy water, which can spread diseases such as cholera. Water shortage also causes dehydration.

Water resources rely on a steady flow of precipitation to meet the daily demand for fresh drinking water. Production of clean drinking water halts almost completely when there is no rainfall.

Water shortages bring an array of secondary effects, too. People start to irrigate their crops from rivers, boreholes, and other water reserves. Eventually, irrigation increases the scarcity of water.

Water shortages can also lead to poor sanitation with regards to the disposal of waste and also cleanliness.

Droughts increase famine

Droughts directly affect food supplies and can lead to famine, mass starvation, and deaths. Crops need water to survive. Reduced rainfall and dry water sources can only lead to a depleted crop turnover and exhausted food supplies.

Droughts also reduce the number of livestock as you cannot feed them without sufficient grass. They also need drinking water to flourish.

A famine (profound food scarcity) may last for a prolonged time as a result of drought. One year of food shortages means that supplies are also depleted for several years after, even after the drought has passed. It causes malnutrition and death.

Droughts fuel wildfires

Droughts provide the right conditions for wildfires to spread over woodlands and forests. Leaves and plants dry out, making woodland areas susceptible to wildfire outbreaks. Low soil moisture also fuels wildfires.

Besides fuel, a wildfire only needs a heat source and oxygen to ignite. The hot heat of the sun or a flash of lightning can start a wildfire. However, most wildfires are a result of human activities like dumping lit cigarettes.

Wildfires have unlimited resources to keep burning during a drought, making them difficult to curb and almost impossible to put out.

The fires can destroy homes, forests, and flora species while also causing the death of both human and animal life. They can even set ablaze dried crops, making the food shortage even more unbearable.

As a result of droughts, wildfires are just as harmful to human and animal life as famine and water shortages.

Droughts cause diseases

Droughts lead to people relying on any water in order to survive. It could be from a well, river, or any other source. Using infected water can worsen the situation by spreading cholera and other waterborne diseases through a community.

Droughts also cause unnatural dryness and sandstorms in some areas, leading to respiratory illnesses.

Sandstorms force people to inhale dirty sand, soil, and dust. Bronchial passages become infected due to this, which can lead to long-term respiratory diseases and illnesses.

Sandstorms caused by droughts have been linked to cases of pneumonia and bronchitis.

Droughts can also cause many other unexpected diseases, including coccidioidomycosis, sometimes referred to as valley fever.

Valley fever occurs when the unhealthy soil becomes airborne, either due to a sandstorm or strong gales, and is ingested. Valley fever can be debilitating and manifests itself in aching muscles, high fever, and rashes.

Social conflict due to food scarcity

Droughts can be viewed as a contributing factor to social conflicts and even civil wars. Food shortages lead to desperate times, and people naturally become aggressive when it’s an issue of survival.

Droughts will turn communities against each other as arguments ensue over rations. Food supplies will have to be balanced and distributed out evenly, which will invariably cause some form of disagreement or lengthy social conflict.

Droughts on a bigger scale will likely see armed conflicts ensuing between communities, races, or religions.

Drought increases wildlife mortality

Animals, too, suffer from a shortage of food supplies and water supplies during a drought. Wildfires can drive animals from their habitats as well as destroying their food.

Droughts will diminish animals’ food resources, causing starvation and increased deaths.

Animals, too, suffer from many of the diseases that affect humans at a time of drought. Animals will turn to poor-quality water to stay hydrated.

Droughts may lead to low animal birth rates, as nests and wetlands become uninhabitable for them. Geese and ducks, most notably, cannot survive at all, given their reliance on ponds and lakes.

Droughts cause an imbalance to occur in the food chain that could take years to recover.

Hydroelectric failure due to water shortage

Droughts can cause power outages in areas that rely upon hydroelectric power. Low water levels lead to low power levels. Fast flowing water is essential to hydroelectric power, which relies on kinetic energy caused by the motion and pressure of the water.

Hydroelectric failure has a knock-on effect on the environment, as people will need to turn to non-eco-friendly sources of energy.

Alternative energy sources may also be more expensive than hydropower energy.

Drought strains the economy

Drought severely injures the stability of the agricultural sector, which makes up a huge part of most nations’ economic resources. Droughts decrease animal and crop production. Profits become low as the price of goods and services increases. As businesses suffer, they reduce hire rates and even lay off some workers.

This economic loss ranks amongst the most expensive of all losses caused by natural disasters.

Droughts lead to migrations

Droughts, in all significant instances, have caused a mass migration of people and animals. Droughts destroy homes and reduce food supplies, causing many people to move on to seek refuge elsewhere.

Countries with regular drought have witnessed regular migration patterns of their people. Inhabitants tend to move somewhere else in the country or to a nearby neighboring country, as the effects of drought become too unbearable to live with.

Droughts, therefore, cause many to feel displaced and forces them into a state of perpetual migration.


Droughts can shake a country down to its core. Droughts negatively affect the agricultural economy sector, increase wildlife mortality, spread diseases, and degrade society’s environment, health, and well-being.

However, it’s difficult to think of the individual effects of drought without thinking of them as a whole. As soon as drought hits, a domino effect occurs, leaving an impact on every aspect of human society.

Droughts lead to food shortages, leading to famine, job loss, social conflict, migration, and more. The functionality of a country is devalued in the face of a significant drought.

Droughts cannot be eradicated, but the severity of periods of drought can be helped by taking active steps to use less water.

bottom of page