National Drought Mitigation Center


NDMC partners with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification on drought impacts policy brief

January 25, 2024

A Tanzanian woman pumps water from a well located 2 km away from her home. Women and girls are disproportionately impacted by the effects of drought, according to a policy brief by NDMC and UNCCD. Photo by Calvin Kulaya, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Emily Case-Buskirk, NDMC Communications Specialist

To highlight global drought impacts and the need for related programs, the National Drought Mitigation Center authored a policy brief on drought impacts for the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

“The Cascading and Compounding Impacts of Drought” was released at the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference, COP 28, in Dubai in December 2023.

Investing in the health and well-being of people and ecosystems can reduce the most extreme impacts of drought, said Kelly Smith, NDMC assistant director and drought impacts researcher.

“Water connects all life on Earth, and drought tests our commitment to that connection,” Smith said. “The policy brief is a chance to emphasize to the international community that making sure people’s basic needs are met pays off in countless ways, including reducing or eliminating drought impacts.”

In November, the group of nations that are signatories to the agreement establishing the UNCCD met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. At the meeting, Smith and Mark Svoboda, director of the NDMC, organized and spoke on a panel, “The Global Impacts of Drought.” This discussion fed into the policy brief.

Other panelists included Jesse Bell, the Claire M. Hubbard Professor of Water, Climate and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, as well as partners from the UNCCD, the World Meteorological Organization and the International Drought Management Programme. 

“Even though our session was at the very end of an intense few days, people stayed and kept the discussion going the whole time,” Smith said.

The report calls on nations to implement sustainable development goals such as food and water security, access to education and health care, gender equity, ending poverty and sustainable land use practices. Implementing solutions with multiple benefits, particularly enhancing human and ecosystem health and productivity, can reduce the most extreme vulnerability to drought.

Drought causes widespread crop loss, land degradation, reduced soil health, ecosystem damage, loss of hydropower production and more, according to the report. While not as noticeable as hurricanes or earthquakes, it is one of the most expensive natural disasters. 

Heat waves and dust storms can exacerbate drought, while subsequent events like flooding can leave communities bereft of recovery time. The wide-ranging societal impacts of drought affect sectors including agriculture, energy and tourism. Vulnerable populations including women and girls experience disproportionate effects, impacting education opportunities and quality of life. 

Drought resilience is often the result of astute planning and resource allocation — requiring engagement from all levels of government and sector-specific approaches. The UNCCD drought toolbox includes monitoring and early warning, vulnerability and risk assessment and risk mitigation measures to assist in these efforts.

Recommendations from the report include establishing drought early warning systems that reach disenfranchised populations and incorporate drought impact monitoring. Quantifiable metrics and analysis related to past and ongoing drought impacts are key in identifying and minimizing susceptibility. 

NDMC’s work with the UNCCD follows decades of international involvement with the United Nations, United States Agency for International Development, World Meteorological Organization, World Bank and several other partners, Svoboda said.

“Given the NDMC’s mission is centered on reducing the effect of drought on people, the environment and the economy, it’s very gratifying to see the increasing emphasis on reducing the impacts of drought, in addition to our scientific ability to better detect and proactively plan for drought,” he said.

This effort was part of a cooperation agreement between NDMC and UNCCD. Read the policy brief on the UNCCD website