Updated: Feb 23
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.
An example of this would be the Ethiopian famine of 1983-1985, which resulted in the death of 1.2 million people.
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.