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16 December 2011

WMO and UNCCD work on the foundations to build national drought policies

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) are laying the foundations to help build coordinated, proactive national policies on drought.

An international organizing committee met in Geneva 13-14 December to make initial plans for a High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy scheduled for March 2013.

Droughts rank first among all natural hazards. In 2011, droughts occurred in the Horn of Africa, parts of China and the United States of America and other parts of the world.

There is growing evidence that the frequency and extent of drought has increased as a result of human induced climate change. National governments therefore need to adopt coordinated policies in order to increase their capacity to cope with extended periods of water shortages due to drought.

“Despite the repeated occurrences of droughts throughout human history and the large impacts on different socio-economic sectors, no concerted efforts have ever been made to initiate a dialogue on the formulation and adoption of national drought policies. The time is ripe for nations to move forward with the development of a pro-active, risk-based national drought policy,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

“Drought is predictable and does not happen overnight. Therefore, it should not claim lives nor lead to famine, which results when drought couples with policy failure or governance breakdown or both. However, as with desertification, drought is a silent and slow killer, and both have a way of creeping up on us, fooling us into underestimating their urgency,” said Mr Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification.

He added that the UNCCD secretariat supported the development and the implementation of national drought policy because “drought is a severe challenge impeding the livelihood of drylands populations. Just as earthquake-prone countries have to learn to live with that risk, drought-prone countries have to do the same.”

Early Warning Systems

WMO and UNCCD are calling for coordinated, national drought policies that include effective monitoring and early warning systems to deliver timely information to decision makers, effective impact assessment procedures, pro-active risk management measures, preparedness plans aimed at increasing the coping capacity, and effective emergency response programs directed at reducing the impacts of drought.

Most nations currently respond to drought in a reactive, crisis management mode – in contrast to the integrated disaster risk reduction strategies that are increasingly being embraced to protect against tropical cyclones and floods.

In order to address the issue of national drought policy, the World Meteorological Congress earlier this year recommended the organization of a High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy.

WMO and UNCCD convened the meeting of the organizing committee to start technical and strategic planning to ensure the success of the High Level Meeting.