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NDMC director Svoboda invited by UN to join two key groups dedicated to drought risk management

March 13, 2020

Mark Svoboda, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center, was selected to serve on the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification Drought Initiative working group, and was also chosen to be a lead author of a U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Global Assessment Report that will be dedicated solely to drought.

Over the course of the National Drought Mitigation Center’s 25-year existence, drought planning has gone mainstream in the U.S. All but three states now have drought plans on file, as do most developed countries across the globe. But many developing countries still lack comprehensive drought plans, leaving citizens vulnerable to major setbacks like famine and displacement. The United Nations created the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification Drought Initiative in part to provide drought planning expertise for officials who are creating plans for their home countries, and NDMC director Mark Svoboda was recently selected as one of 15 independent experts and leaders to join a 30-person team on a key working group for a two-year term. 

The UNCCD mandate states that the Intergovernmental Working Group that Svoboda will serve on “supports over 70 countries in designing comprehensive national plans of action ready to be activated well before the drought strikes.” The group is comprised of 15 regional representatives from the participating UNCCD countries and 15 experts who, including Svoboda, were chosen at-large. Svoboda said the group’s main goal is to examine what tools countries are utilizing as they develop or update their drought policies, and inform those 70-plus countries on sound policy dealing with drought under a changing climate.

“Drought, of all the hazards, might be the most analogous to climate change when you think about a big spatial footprint that affects millions of people, potentially covers millions of hectares or acres and has a potentially very long temporal footprint as well,” Svoboda said.  

The UNCCD website currently features a drought planning toolbox modeled after the three pillars of drought preparedness (monitoring and early warning, vulnerability and risk assessment, and risk mitigation measures) that have been advanced by NDMC founding director Don Wilhite. Svoboda said that the working group will collaborate and discuss mitigation practices that can reduce costs and impacts to people, property and livelihoods. Those best practices will be shared during the biennial Conference of the Parties scheduled to take place in November 2021. The location has not been announced. 

Along with serving on the Drought Initiative working group, Svoboda was also recently chosen to be a lead author for an upcoming special release of the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction Global Assessment Report (GAR) that will be dedicated solely to drought. 

The 2019 report featured a special section on drought, in which its authors wrote that climate change will likely make droughts more destructive, pervasive and frequent in the coming years, and acknowledged that previous versions of the report avoided including drought as abundantly as other hazards, in part because of its breadth. 

“It has so many drivers and so many effects, which are often indirect,” the authors wrote. “This should not be a reason to avoid talking about (droughts) as damaging hazards that affect hundreds of millions of people a year and exact an untold economic toll. Risk will never be simple again. That is difficult and important to accept for risk scientists, for policymakers and for anyone faced with the task of communicating risk.”

The upcoming special report, Svoboda said, will be a key opportunity to spotlight drought and give decision-makers key context about the hazard in relation to other disasters. This drought-centric work will focus in large part on cases from around the world representing advances in drought early warning, systemic risks and resilience among other issues. 

“I'm excited by the prospect of this because it really brings the energy and focus that are needed to address drought and the detrimental effects that it has on people, our environment, our economies and health,” Svoboda said. 

For more about the UNCCD Drought Initiative, go to: unccd.int/actions/drought-initiative

To read the 2019 GAR report’s special section on drought, visit: gar.undrr.org/chapters/chapter-6-special-section-drought#Introduction

Cory Matteson, NDMC communications specialist