The time is now for nations to plan for drought and stop reacting to drought in crisis mode, particularly given the likelihood of more frequent, more intense droughts resulting from climate change, Don Wilhite said in the keynote address at an international meeting in Geneva that was March 11-15. The High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy included several presentations by faculty and staff associated with the National Drought Mitigation Center.
On Thursday, country representatives unanimously acclaimed a declaration encouraging countries to develop and implement national drought policies.
“It is imperative that we bring together scientific information and move forward with a drought risk management approach,” said Wilhite in his keynote address, “Managing Drought Risk in a Changing Climate: The Role of National Drought Policy.”
Wilhite, founding director of the NDMC, stressed that monitoring should go beyond precipitation to include other physical characteristics such as reservoir levels and streamflow. “Measuring precipitation alone isn’t enough,” he said. “Impacts and deficiencies ripple through all areas of the hydrologic and socio-economic system.” Unlike other disasters, drought varies spatially and temporally, and has multiple and migrating epicenters.
“It’s so important today to take into account climate change,” he said. “The climate of the past is no longer a model for the climate of the future. It challenges all of us in the scientific community to be able to provide factual information to policymakers.”
Wilhite, who worked with United Nations organizations -- the World Meteorological Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the Convention to Combat Desertification -- and others to organize the meeting, was also part of the group that negotiated the wording of the declaration on national drought policy.
SNR faculty members Mike Hayes and Mark Svoboda gave an overview on “The Making of the U.S. Drought Monitor,” a weekly map showing the location and intensity of drought, based on many numeric indicators and on the input of a network of observers all over the country.
Hayes, director of the NDMC, and Svoboda, leader of the center’s Monitoring Program Area, stressed that the involvement of local observers all over the country has contributed to the credibility of the weekly map showing the location and intensity of drought. This credibility makes it easier for policymakers to base decisions on the map.
Kelly Helm Smith, communications and drought resources specialist at the NDMC, was part of a panel on drought education. She said that education in many settings, from formal classrooms to community initiatives, can help move people out of crisis mode when dealing with drought, and toward more planned responses and greater resilience to drought.
Svoboda also served as a discussant on a panel about drought early warning systems, and Hayes was scheduled to describe U.S. efforts on a panel Tuesday on drought mitigation and preparedness in different regions.
About 360 people from 92 countries attended the meeting, including scientists, representatives of development agencies, policymakers and heads of state.
For more information about the High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy, please visit http://hmndp.org
-- Kelly Helm Smith, National Drought Mitigation Center