Droughts wipe out enough to feed 81 million people - World Bank

Although it is floods that grab the headlines and trigger aid quickly, a report shows how droughts have large human and economic impact that can last for generations.

Droughts wipe out enough produce to feed 81 million people every day for a year - equivalent to the population of Germany, the World Bank said on Tuesday.

Although it is floods that grab the headlines and trigger aid quickly, droughts have “shockingly large and often hidden” impacts that can last for generations, it said in a report.

The costs are both human and economic.

Girls in rural Africa born during a severe drought are more likely to grow up poor and hungry, be less educated, stunted, wed younger, give birth to underweight babies and bear more of them, the bank said.

“This is an example of a poverty trap that has been created by a single episode of drought … and it continues across generations - which is why it’s so important to nip it in the bud,” said Richard Damania, lead author of the report.

In a drought, farmers are also more likely to clear trees to grow more, the report said. Forests absorb and store carbon, and help regulate water supplies, so cutting them down exacerbates climate change and worsens water supplies, Damania said.

The impacts are so severe that countries need to develop some form of fallback or drought insurance that can protect rural families from falling into worsening poverty, he said.

This is an example of a poverty trap that has been created by a single episode of drought and it continues across generations.

Richard Damania, lead author, World Bank report

“Rather than encountering a poverty trap, you’re much, much better off with a safety net,” he said.

Nor are cities - the economic engines of most countries - immune from drought. In fact, the Bank used a decade’s worth of data to conclude that the economic impact of droughts on city businesses was four times worse than that of floods.

Urban economies slow because of power outages, weak sales and increased health problems such as diarrhoea and dysentery.

“The recovery after drought is slow and silent,” Damania told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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