Effects of Drought

Drought can have wide-ranging impacts on the environment, communities, and farmers. Most plants and animals in arid regions are adapted to dealing with drought, either behaviorally or through specialized physical adaptations. Humans, however, are often unprepared or overwhelmed by the consequences of drought. Farmers experience decreased incomes from crop failure. Low rainfall frequently increases a crop's susceptibility to dis ease and pests. Drought can particularly hurt small rural communities, especially local business people who are dependent on purchases from farmers and ranchers.

Drought is a natural element of climate, and no region is immune to the drought hazard. Farmers in humid areas grow crops that are less drought-resistant than those grown in arid regions. In developing countries the effects of drought can include malnutrition and famine. A prolonged drought struck the Sahel zone of Africa from 1968 through 1974. Nearly 5 million cattle died during the drought, and more than 100,000 people died from malnutrition-related diseases during just one year of the drought.

Subsistence and traditional societies can be very resilient in the face of drought. American Indians either stored food for poor years or migrated to wetter areas. The !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa learned to change their diet, find alternate water sources, and generally adapt to the fluctuation of seasons and climate in the Kalahari Desert.

More than any other event, the Dust Bowl years of the 1930's influenced Americans' perceptions and knowledge of drought. Stories of dust storms that turned day into night, fences covered by drifting soil, and the migration of destitute farmers from the Great Plains to California captured public and government attention. The enormous topsoil loss to wind erosion, continuous crop failures, and widespread bankruptcies suggested that the United States had in some way failed to adapt to the drought hazard.

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