Press Release No. 967
For use of the information media
Not an official record
United Nations launches concerted push for effective drought policies
Need to focus on building resilience and reducing risks
Geneva 8 March 2013 – Droughts cause the deaths and displacement of more people than
cyclones, floods and earthquakes combined, making them the world’s most destructive
natural hazard. Yet while droughts are expected to increase in frequency, area and intensity
due to climate change, effective drought management policies are missing in most parts of
the world. Three United Nations institutions have now joined forces to promote the
development and adoption of practical and proactive policies at the national level to make
drought-prone countries more resilient.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
United Nations (FAO) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and other
partners will hold a High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy on 11-15 March 2013 in Geneva
to focus on drought preparedness and management policies.
“Since time immemorial, drought has been a feature of the natural variability of our climate,” said
WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts are
expected to rise in several parts of the world as a result of climate change, with an increasing
human and economic toll. We simply cannot afford to continue in a piecemeal, crisis-driven mode.
We have the knowledge and experience to reduce the impact of drought. What we need now is the
policy framework and action on the ground.”
“Despite being predictable, drought is the most costly and the deadliest disaster of our time. The
decision to mitigate drought is ultimately political. Governments of all drought-prone countries need
to adopt, mainstream and operationalize national drought policies, based on the principles of early
warning, preparedness and risk management,” said UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja.
“The cost of crisis management far exceeds that of risk management and early action and we
should not wait until the next drought, causing famine and claiming human lives.”
“More extreme and frequent droughts resulting from climate change are having devastating food
security impacts, especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world,” said FAO Director-General
José Graziano da Silva. “To buck this trend, we must build resilient, ‘drought-resistant’ communities.
This means not simply reacting after the rains fail, but investing over the long-term, so that when
drought does hit, people and food systems can weather the blow.”
The High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy brings together world leaders, government
decision-makers, development agencies, and leading scientists and researchers. Government
leaders include His Excellency Issoufou Mahamadou, President of the Republic of Niger, whose
country has been repeatedly hit by devastating droughts, most recently in 2011-2012.
Heavy Human and Economic Toll
Since the 1970s, the land area affected by drought has doubled. Women, children and the aged
often pay the heaviest price.
Most recently, droughts have affected the Greater Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, the USA,
Mexico, Northeast Brazil, parts of China and India, Russia and Southeast Europe. The most
vulnerable countries are in the world’s drylands, with the poorest communities in Africa and parts of
western Asia at particular risk.
The effects can last long after the rains return, with food remaining scarce and expensive and
depleted water resources, eroded soils, weakened livestock, and legal and social conflicts lingering
for years. Often, droughts are broken by major flood events, so they catch communities when they
are most vulnerable, and add to the damages experienced.
Today, 168 countries claim to be affected by desertification, a process of land degradation in the
drylands that affects food production and is exacerbated by drought. At the Rio +20 Sustainable
Development Conference held last June in Brazil, world leaders identified desertification, land
degradation and drought as global challenges and committed to strive to achieve a landdegradation neutral world, in which degradation of new areas is avoided and unavoidable
degradation is offset by restoring an equal amount of land in the same time and in the same
This is an achievable target. Sustainable land management practices, including restoring degraded
lands, improving soil and water management that help to mitigate drought, already exist, but need
to be reflected, supported and scaled up by national policies.
From Crisis Management to Disaster Risk Reduction
The purpose of the High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy is to encourage countries to
move from crisis management to disaster-risk reduction – an approach already successfully
embraced for hazards such as tropical cyclones and floods.
Specific targets include:
- Proactive mitigation and planning measures, risk management, public outreach and
resource stewardship as key elements of effective national drought policy.
- Greater collaboration to enhance the national, regional and global observation networks and
information delivery systems to improve public understanding of, and preparedness for,
- Incorporation of comprehensive governmental and private insurance and financial strategies
into drought preparedness plans.
- Recognition of a safety net of emergency relief based on sound stewardship of natural
resources and self-help at diverse governance levels.
- Coordination of drought programmes and response in an effective, efficient and customeroriented manner.
Increasing resilience, focusing efforts
Better drought management is one of the priorities of the Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS) now being implemented by governments with support from the United Nations. Climate services aim to increase drought resilience by improving climate information and services, especially for the most vulnerable. They will build on fast improving climate prediction capabilities.
The GFCS aims to give global access to improved services for four priority sectors – food security and agriculture, water, health and disaster risk reduction – by the end of 2017.
Notes to Editors:
The High Level Meeting on National Drought Policy takes place from 11 to 15 March at the International Conference Center, Geneva, Switzerland. The High Level Segment will start on the afternoon of 14 March and conclude with the adoption of the Meeting Declaration on 15 March.
Donald A. Wilhite, Professor of Applied Climate Science, University of Nebraska, USA, will deliver the keynote speech during the half-day opening plenary chaired by Dr Akin Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Nigeria.
Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, and José Graziano da Silva, Director General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will also address the session.
The conference is open to the media. Full details of the programme are available at http://www.hmndp.org/
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UNCCD is the sole legally binding international agreement linking environment, development and the promotion of healthy soils. The Convention’s 195 signatory Parties work to alleviate poverty in the drylands, maintain and restore the land’s productivity, and mitigate the effects of drought.
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For more information, please contact Kimberly Sullivan, Communication and Publications Officer, Natural Resources Department, Office of Assistant Director-General, FAO Tel : +39 0657055023, E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
The World Meteorological Organization is the United Nations System’s authoritative voice on Weather, Climate and Water
For more information, please contact:
Clare Nullis, Media Officer, Communications and Public Affairs, Tel: +(41 22) 730 8478; 41-79) 7091397 (cell)