Climate Change in the Midwest: Impacts, Risks, Vulnerability, and Adaptation

By S. C. Pryor | Go to book overview

13.
The Drought Risk Management
Paradigm in the Context of Climate Change

M. HAYES


introduction

The 2010 drought and heat wave in Russia’s wheat belt sent rippling impacts that were felt worldwide, including civil disturbances such as food riots in Mozambique (CNN 2010). This event is a recent example of how drought and the interconnectedness of issues such as food security, water availability, climate variability and extremes, and the potential of climate change can challenge societies around the world. It is also an example why discussions about potential drought events and the agriculturally rich Midwest (see chapter 2 of this volume) are especially relevant when thinking about the future because of the impacts these events might have both local and global dimensions.

Drought is a natural hazard that can occur at almost any location, causing considerable economic, environmental, and social impacts. For the United States, a compilation by the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC 2011) of weather and climate disasters causing at least $1 billion in losses and damage documents that 14 “billion-dollar” drought/heat wave events have occurred since 1980, totaling more than $180 billion in losses. This total represents 25 percent of all losses from these billion-dollar weather disasters. The average loss per disaster for droughts and hurricanes (about $13 billion per event) is far higher than for any other disaster (NCDC 2011).

Drought differs from these other hazards in terms of several key characteristics. First, droughts are often referred to as a “creeping phenomenon” because of their slow onset (Gillette 1950). Second, unlike other natural hazards, droughts lack a universal definition, and drought severity is best described by multiple indicators. Heim (2002) provides an overview of various drought indicators representing the variety of ways to depict both drought intensity and the spatial and temporal scales of drought. Third, the impacts of drought are often non-structural in terms of infrastructural damage and are spread over very large areas. Because of these unique characteristics, it is often difficult to focus attention on drought events as they are occurring, and these characteristics have made progress on drought risk manage-

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