Nation

Drought: A Prowling Pandemic is on the Way

In recent times, countries such in Europe and North America have experienced unprecedented drought.  In the United States, the cost of managing the incidence of drought surpasses 6 billion dollars yearly; while it amounts to 7.7 billion pounds in the European Union.

Although, these numbers could also be significantly understated globally, at least 2 billion persons have borne the effects of drought, while estimated losses amount to $124billion. The real cost is probably more significant as estimates fail to cover the full impact in developing countries. Although most people believe that drought is a natural disaster that happens in third-world countries, developed nations are having a significant share of the disaster.

Mami Mizutori, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction, said: “Drought is on the verge of becoming the next pandemic and there is no vaccine to cure it. Most of the world will be living with water stress in the next few years. Demand will outstrip supply during certain periods. Drought is a major factor in land degradation and the decline of yields for major crops… People have been living with drought for 5,000 years, but what we are seeing now is very different. Human activities are exacerbating drought and increasing the impact,” thus slowing down the effort at eliminating poverty.

Nigeria is expected to encounter more drought problems in the approaching years. Mohammed Shiru, an expert on environmental engineering, said that temperature will increase by about 0.5-5.5 degrees Celsius in the West African sub-region. Also, erratic precipitation would rise, which will subsequently create further drought. Shiru stated that there would be the presence of immensely unpredictable rainfall, although limited to certain areas of the nation. Subsequently, there will be a difficulty in agricultural production, which is a major aspect of Nigeria’s GDP. 

Nigeria’s northern region is majorly responsible for the production of cereals and grains in the country. But it is prone to regular bouts of drought, with serious consequences for food security. For instance, in 1971-1972, drought affected the usefulness of agriculture to GDP in Nigeria. Numbers declined from 18.4% in 1971-1972 to 7.3% in the following years. Measly crop returns or no crop returns because of drought leads to poverty and hunger as agriculture represents the main source of rural Nigerian economy. In Nigeria, agriculture is one of the crucial profitable activities. It is estimated that 40 percent of nation’s GDP is due to agriculture, which recruits close to 60 percent of the operative work force. Hence, the onset of a debilitating drought would result in a disaster with significant consequences.

Famine is the mostly deadly outcome of a drought. Past times have seen Nigeria experience drought which led to famines. This was seen in 1903 and 1911-1914. The years 1919, 1924, 1935, 1951-1954, 1972-1973, 1984-1985, 2007 and 2011 also saw drought-induced famines. The situation is being worsened due to a rising human population, mass poverty and a host of other factors. Although years of plentiful rainfall lead to successful harvest in crops and livestock, periods of low rainfall brings low crop output resulting in famine, starvation and mortality as well as livestock. Official records indicate that livestock amounting to 300,000 died due to the drought of 1972-1973.

This amount of livestock accounts for 13% of the entirety of the livestock populace in the nation’s north-east areas. Also, in 1987, drought led to significant crop losses in northern Nigeria. In recent times, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) stated that global mean temperature stands at 1.2 degrees Celsius. In a report by the Centre for Climate and Energy Solutions titled “Drought and Climate Change”, there was an establishment of a relationship between drought and increasing temperatures.

“Warmer temperatures can enhance evaporation from the soil, making periods with low precipitation drier than they would be in cooler conditions. Droughts can persist through a ‘positive feedback,’ where very dry soils and diminished plant cover can further suppress rainfall in an already dry area.”
 
In Nigeria, for example, the semi-arid area of the North is more prone to drought in relation to the fuggy area of the south. In a recent prediction by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), June and July 2021 would be lightly dry and significantly more so in some regions. Professor Sani Mashi, the former Director- General of NIMET, stated that the forecast for June showed that there will be a light dry spell for about a week or less in states like Nasarawa, Kogi, Niger, Adamawa, Plateau, Ekiti, areas of Oyo, Kaduna and Bauchi. States including Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Yobe, Borno, Jigawa and Kebbi would experience a severe dry period which would last for three weeks or more.

He also stated that forecasts for the months of July to August 2021 indicate that Adamawa, majority of Kwara and the north of Oyo would suffer a severe dry period. In Nigeria, drought is a major problem in many rural areas. The majority of northern Nigeria has experienced a significant desertification and drought. The average yearly rainfall has descended beneath 600mm in relation to 3,500mm in the southern coast region of the nation.

Due to this change, many lives totalling 40 million persons are being affected, and on the brink especially are small time farmers and farm animals. The beginning of dry periods see a high majority of cattle herders coerced to leave established pasture areas to the central and southern areas of the nation. This occurrence results in rivalry which leads to conflict between herders and farmers, and worsens the insecurity in the country.

One of the leaders of cattle herders, Bala Ardo, had stated thus: “While growing up, I saw trees, forest, rivers and streams in most parts of northern Nigeria. The grasses grew and it was more than enough for the cattle. But it’s no more. The situation has forced the average herders to seek pasture and water in places they never would have visited in the past, as they struggle to find drinkable water for themselves and families and then their animals.”

Having seen the effects of drought in Nigeria in the past, it is imperative on the government to take measures to prevent history from repeating itself. Drought is an unseen international calamity that has a likelihood of becoming “the next pandemic”.  Nigeria requires immediate action on the management of water and land, and in addressing the plight of the climate. Mizutori has pleaded with governments to be proactive in acting so as to avoid drought. This should be done by changing and regulating the way water is exploited, and the preservation of land. Also, timely warning systems would go a long way to assist endangered persons in various parts of the country.

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