From the National Geographic: Storms Get Headlines, but Drought Is a Sneaky, Devastating Game-Changer. As California and the American West dry up, a way of life is threatened.
A friend and I were recently discussing how difficult drought is. He asked how do you do mitigation for a drought. And I asked what does recovery from a drought entail? We welcome some input to this discussion.
Update: Be sure to read the thoughtful comments from readers too.
Thanks for an interesting and thought provoking line of discussion.
The droughts which affect us in New Zealand are nothing as extensive in area or duration as out Australian neighbours. The most recent is well illustrated in the difference in two satellite photos available here: http://www.upi.com/Science_News/2013/03/15/New-Zealand-drought-said-worst-in-30-years/UPI-57271363376381/
It affected one of our prime dairying areas for several months and was important because this was a region not used to drought and the farming practices relied on rainfall.
Changing climate patterns and our tendency to move into marginal areas are probably going to exacerbate the consequences on many communities. As John Richardson pointed out, while the farmers are directly impacted in both the short and long term, the wider community is affected too.
I was raised on a small hobby farm in Wisconsin where my parents still operate and run education programs. We come from a multi-generation self-sustaining gardening and farming line. The family has more than 200 years of continuous experience.
No one likes to admit it, but droughts are also about proper farming and gardening techniques that lead to environmental health and sustainability. Pollutants that affect climate change come from our treatment of soil and the use of chemicals and artificial fertilizers. The same is true for livestock. California is a mass producer of both.
While recovery and mitigation of drought is tied to politics, it is also connected to individual responsibility. The small farmer/gardener is responsible. The large scale commercial operations must also be held accountable. The only way for this to occur is to recognize the direct relationship between unhealthy large-scale gardening and farming operations to climate change. Only then can politics be moved to mandate necessary changes to improve environmental quality and slowly stem the affects of climate change, such as drought.
Someone from Australia once told me that they just had to stop looking at droughts as disasters, and more as part of the normal condition of things. If droughts come frequently, how can we say that they are unexpected catastrophes? This shift in thinking gets us out of the reactive mode, and into more of a system-preparedness. There are probably many “disasters” associated with climate change that we could reframe like this.
Thanks for the thoughtful and useful comments.
We were talking about this today, as parts of western NSW and Queensland are in drought, and with a positive el nino predicted for this year, much of the rest of the country might fall into drought. recovery from drought is a challenge, as it is really social support. One of the things that Colin Macdougall from Flinders University mentioned to me was that the health indicators for people experiencing drought really drop off dramatically, which is counter intuitive, as we think that drought is slow onset, so the impacts will be slow and cumulative. See: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/read/21070694/resilience-farm-families-final-report-flinders-university
I was involved in the millennium drought program in the state of Victoria. Maintaining social connections was very important. Our psycho-social program was heavily skewed toward funding social activities. things like cinema nights, sponsorship of football games (and having health professionals available), we even provided psychological first aid training for hairdressers and milk tanker drivers, as these were the people who had the sustained contact with farmers and their families.
Personal and financial counseling was funded, and I would place a much stronger focus on financial counseling, as this is the crux of the drought. Programs need to take into account all businesses, not just farming, because of the flow on effect into communities. Mental health programs need to be outreach, professionals need to get dirty and dusty. Farmers won’t come into a clinical setting.
A drought program needs to be supported for a minimum of 3 years. Lack of political will saw our drought program funded for 9 months initially, it was extended three times, and ended up being nearly 3 years, but many of the community development workers, and mental health professionals moved on during the program due to uncertainty, and the programs lost momentum.
This may also be useful.
Click to access socimpctdroughtlitrev2008-1.0.0.pdf