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Droughts often result in heavy crop damage and livestock losses, disrupt
energy production and hurt ecosystems. They cover wide areas of land
and often affect several neighbouring regions or countries simultaneously.
Droughts can lead to famines, loss of life, mass migration and conflict.
Hence, droughts can wipe out development gains and accumulated wealth
in developing countries, especially for the poorest.56

                                                          Top 10 natural disasters
                                                  with highest numbers killed, 1974-2007



                   400,000                                                                                                                                                                               Top 10 most expensive drought disasters 1974-2003
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (constant US dollars)
Number of deaths

                                                                                                                                                                                        12    11.47


                                                                                                                                                              Billion 2003 US dollars
                                                                                                                                                                                        6                         5.45
                        0                                                                                                                                                                                                   4.78
                             & Sudan











                                                                                                                                                                                        4                                            3.75   3.64   3.51
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            3.17    3.04    2.96

                                                  1975                                            2005        1990     2003                                                             2
                              1984      1974/75              2004     1991           1985                                         1999         1974
                                                  Earth-                                          Earth-      Earth-   Heat
                             Drought    Drought   quake    Tsunami   Cyclone        Drought       quake       quake    wave       Flood        Flood
                                                                                                                                                                                              1982       1978     1995      1982     2000   2001   1999     1979    1981    1981
                                                                                                                                                                                             Australia   Brazil   Spain   Zimbabwe   Iran   Iran   Spain   Canada   Spain   Spain

Source: Guha-Sapir, Hargitt and Hoyois (2004) and EM-DAT, the OFDA/CRED International Disaster                                                               Source: Guha-Sapir, Hargitt and Hoyois (2004).

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                                                    Most expensive drought disasters relative to GDP,                                                                                                    Drought, agriculture and economic volatility

                                                                                                                                                                                                       Agriculture, value added (annual % growth)                                                 GDP growth (annual %)

                                          31                                                                                                                             50          Drought                                                         Drought                                                      Drought
                                                                                                                                                                         40                                                                                                                 Australia
 Percentage of previous year GDP

                                   25                                                                                                                                    30

                                                                                                                                                  Real annual % growth
                                                    17                                                                                                                   10
                                   15                                   14                                                                                                0

                                   10                                               9
                                                                                                      7                                                                  –20
                                   5                                                                                         4           4                               –30
                                                                                                                                                                                   80        82        84          86          88          90            92           94          96          98          00         02        04
                                                                                                                                                                               19        19        19            19          19          19            19           19          19          19          20         20        20

                                         1982      1983       1978     1983       1994       1985    2000      2000        2003        1999                              60                                                                   Drought         Drought
                                                                                                                         Bosnia and
                                        Zimbabwe   Bolivia   Senegal   Bolivia   Nicaragua   Chad   Georgia   Tajikistan
                                                                                                                                                                         50                                                                                                                 Malawi

                                                                                                                                                  Real annual % growth
Source: Guha-Sapir, Hargitt and Hoyois (2004).                                                                                                                           30


Drought mortality is concentrated in developing countries, while                                                                                                          0
absolute economic losses are largest in developed regions                                                                                                                –10

In relative terms, developing countries are those suffering the biggest eco-                                                                                             –20

nomic losses. In a number of countries, drought wiped out significantly more                                                                                             –30
than 5 per cent of the previous year’s GDP.                                                                                                                              –40
                                                                                                                                                                                80        82        84        86          88          90          92           94          96          98          00        02         04        06
                                                                                                                                                                              19        19        19        19          19          19          19          19           19          19          20      20         20       20
Unlike earthquakes, droughts can be predictable, usually developing over
several years. This makes it possible to respond to droughts as they occur.                                                                       Source: Based on data from the World Development Indicators online database for GDP and agri-
Several regional early warning systems, such as the Famine Early Warn-                                                                            cultural value added real annual growth rates and from EM-DAT, the OFDA/CRED International
ing System that covers Africa, have been set up around the world for this                                                                         Disaster Database, for years of drought.
                                                                                                                                                  Developing country economies are especially vulnerable to
                                                                                                                                                  Periodic droughts affect both developing and developed countries, with
                                                                                                                                                  direct impacts on agriculture and on other productive sectors reliant on
                                                                                                                                                  water, such as hydroelectricity. It is in developing countries, however, where

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drought is highly correlated with the performance of the overall economy,                              Drought mortality hot spots are concentrated in sub-Saharan
as a result of heavy reliance on agriculture. Not only does water variabil-                            Africa, but economic loss hot spots are located in several
ity significantly reduce projected rates of economic growth in vulnerable                              relatively developed regions
countries, but it has a dramatic effect on poverty rates. At the same time,
                                                                                                       Regional differences in loss risks are in part due to differences in popula-
poor transport infrastructure exacerbates the inability of local economies to
                                                                                                       tion density, in the size of the areas affected and in the degree of hazard
adjust to localized crop failures, as it hinders food surpluses from reaching
                                                                                                       across regions. But they also reflect differences in vulnerability. For instance,
areas in food deficit.58
                                                                                                       droughts in Africa tend to result in high mortality rates due to the generally
                                                                                                       low level of preparedness.59
                                           Global distribution of drought risk
                                            (on the basis of 1980-2000 data)                           The expanded UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), launched in
                                                                                                       2006 as a standby fund to enable more timely and reliable humanitarian
                                                                                                       assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts, is one
                                                                                                       example of a more proactive approach to disaster risk management.60 In
                                                                                                       the cases where risk cannot be adequately addressed through risk mitiga-
                                                                                                       tion measures, some countries have used other risk management strategies,
                                                                                                       such as risk insurance. For instance, weather-index-based insurance to man-
  a. Mortality

                                                                                                       age drought risk has been piloted in several countries with success.61

                    Drought mortality
                    Risk deciles
                              1st to 4th
                             5th to 7th

                             8th to 10th
 b. Economic loss

                                                                                                                                               Desertification has its
                                                                                                                                           greatest impact in Africa,
                    Drought total
                    economic loss                                                                                                         where some two thirds of
                    Risk deciles
                              1st to 4th
                                                                                                                                          the continent are covered
                             5th to 7th                                                                                                 by desert and drylands, and
                             8th to 10th
                                                                                                                                            are afflicted by frequent
Source: Core data sets from IBRD/World Bank and Columbia University (2005).                                                                    and severe droughts.
Note: Sparsely populated areas and those without significant agricultural activity are excluded from
the analysis and appear as white areas in the maps. The global risks of mortality and economic
losses resulting from drought were assessed by combining hazard exposure with historical vulner-                                                        —Michel Jarraud
ability, considering population density and GDP per unit area.                                                                                     WMO Secretary-General

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Endnotes                                                                                                             Sources for graphs and maps
56   D. Guha-Sapir, D. Hargitt and P. Hoyois (2004), Thirty Years of Natural Disasters 1974-2003: The Numbers,       D. Guha-Sapir, D. Hargitt and P. Hoyois (2004), Thirty Years of Natural Disasters 1974-2003: The Numbers,
     Presses Universitaires de Louvain: Louvain-la-Neuve.                                                            Presses Universitaires de Louvain: Louvain-la-Neuve.
57   A. Kreimer, M. Arnold and A. Carlin (2003), Building Safer Cities: The Future of Disaster Risk, Disaster Risk   EM-DAT, OFDA/CRED International Disaster Database, Université Catholique de Louvain, Brussels, Belgium,
     Management Series, No. 3, World Bank.                                                                 
58   E. Clay, L. Bohn, E. Blanco de Armas, S. Kabambe and H. Tchale (2003), “Malawi and Southern Africa: cli-        World Development Indicators online database,
     matic variability and economic performance”, Disaster Risk Management Working Paper Series No. 7, World
                                                                                                                     IBRD/World Bank and Columbia University (2005), Natural disaster hotspots: a global risk analysis: core data sets,
     Bank, Washington, D.C.,
     pdf/wbmalawi.pdf; and World Bank (2006), “Managing water resources to maximize sustainable growth: a
     World Bank water resources assistance strategy for Ethiopia”, a Country Water Resources Assistance Strat-
     egy, World Bank, Washington, D.C.
59   IBRD, World Bank and Columbia University (2005), Natural disaster hotspots: a global risk analysis—synthesis
     report,                                  Source for quote
60   ISDR (2007), “Disaster risk reduction: 2007 global review”, consultation edition, prepared for the Global       M. Jarraud (2006), The Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization Stresses the Importance of
     Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, first session, Geneva, Switzerland, 5-7 June 2007, ISDR/GP/2007/3.        Preparedness, Press Release WMO-No.707,
61   J. Syroka and E. Bryla (2007), “Developing index-based insurance for agriculture in developing countries”,
     Innovation Briefs, No. 4, March,

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