10 Amazing Drought Facts

Drought is something that is becoming more of a problem, but why does it happen? In today’s article we list 10 awesome drought facts that might make you reconsider your actions.


So what exactly is drought? Let’s get this straight before we go any further.

Drought is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as:

a period of dryness especially when prolonged; specifically one that causes extensive damage to crops or prevents their successful growth.

A drought can start in as little as two weeks, but can last for years. There are many ways that a drought can start, and in today’s article we’ll learn what these are. We’ll also learn about the effects of drought.

1. Glantz and Wilhite categorized drought in their 1985 study. According to them drought is described in 4 different ways:

a) Meteorological drought – when a region experiences a prolonged dry period

b) Agricultural drought – a lack of precipitation which is below what plants require. Can also occur due to soil erosion and when soil conditions changes.

c) Hydrological drought – a precipitation shortfall that leads to rivers, lakes, and reservoirs becoming low.

d) Socioeconomic drought – how economic goods, like water, food, grains, fish, and hydroelectric power, depend on weather. The demand for these increases with the human population.

Recently a 5th category was defined as:

Ecological drought – a deficit in natural water supplies that affects multiple ecosystems.

2. Almost 70% of the world is water, but only 2.5% of this is freshwater. Only 1% of freshwater is accessible, while the remaining 99% is ice and snow. In actuality, just 0.007% of the world’s water is available to us as drinking water.

The human population is currently around 7.5 billion people and is projected to reach 11.2 billion by the year 2100. We need water for crops as well as for fuel. If we are struggling to cope now, how will we manage in 2100?

3. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the worst drought happened in China between 1876-79. Estimates are that between 9 and 13 million people died in Northern China when the rains failed to come for 3 whole years.

Around the same time in India (1876-78), around 5 million died when the monsoon rains didn’t come for 2 years.


4. The Food Security Risk Index evaluates the risk to staple food supplies from affects like drought, floods, and poverty. Sub-Saharan countries are currently at most risk, partly due to their susceptibility to drought and the terrible affects it has on food supplies.

5. One of the worst droughts in the U.S. happened during the 1930s. It was dubbed the “Dirty Thirties”, due to the giant dust clouds that covered the plains. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) say around 50,000,000 acres of land were affected by the lack of rainfall and poor soil management practices. By removing the native prairie grasses and plants, nothing binded the soil together, and it was free to blow away in the wind.

6. We’ve learned about the causes of drought, but what are the effects of drought?

  • Water shortage
  • Land erosion – this can cause the dust bowls mentioned in no.5
  • Decreased crop yields
  • Famine – this is a consequence of the decreased crop yields
  • Malnutrition
  • Illness – people are forced to use unsanitary water.
  • Dehydration
  • Wildfires – dry conditions are perfect for starting fires.
  • War – a lack of resources is often what starts wars.
  • Animal migration

7. The most costly natural disaster in U.S. history is said to be the droughts of 1987-89. They affected just 36% of the country and hit the West Coast, Northwest, and northern Great Plains the worst. The National Climate Data Center (NCDC) estimate that the solely the 1988 drought cost almost $62 billion in damages. The forest fires were particularly devastating with 793,880 acres of Yellowstone National Park being damaged. The park was actually closed for the first time in its long history.

8. At the time of writing (February,2018), Cape Town, South Africa, is currently experiencing its worst ever drought. Three years of continual low rainfall are the cause. The 6 local dams and reservoirs sit at just 24% capacity and desperately await the winter rains. To make matters worse, the bottom 10% of the dams are deemed unusable. Levels sat at almost 90% before the drought hit, and have diminished rapidly.

Cape Town faces running out of water completely, and set a 50-liter daily limit on water use. Even the city’s most expensive restaurant has started using paper plates to avoid using water to clean.

9. Studies show that droughts are to become more common as the climate warms.

10. Unicef considers the following countries to be at most risk from drought:

  • China – almost 3 million people lack enough water in the northern Shanxi province. Around 1/3 of the wheat crop has been affected by drought and approximately 60% of the soil lacks moisture. The economic loss is said to be $780 million, while 120,000 people lack adequate drinking water, according to the New York Times.
  • Afghanistan – the south of the country is at risk where 60-80% of livestock have perished. Around 10% of the population are at risk (2.5 million people).
  • Eritrea – a war with bordering Ethiopia and back to back years of drought have caused huge shortages of food.
  • Somalia – seven consecutive bad harvests have made food a huge problem. Around one million are at risk, including as many as 300,000 children under 5 years old.
  • Ethiopia – it is estimated that 8 million people are currently affected by drought. Around 1.4 million of these are said to be children. Ethiopia is never far from drought and is one of the poorest countries in the world.
  • Uganda – as many as 550,000 people lack food security as a result of drought.
  • Sudan – around 2.8 million Sudanese will be confronted with food insecurity in the next few months.
  • Pakistan – the government project that 3 million people face starvation. Drought has ruined crops and killed livestock in the southern Thar region. A humanitarian crisis looms.
  • Iran – the Irani government has reached out to United Nations for international aid. Drought has caused estimated losses of $1.7 billion. The country requires water tankers and water filters/purifiers for the most affected regions. This could cost $200 million alone.
  • India – the regions of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh are currently experiencing drought. This is due to the lack of monsoon rains last year. The drought is said to be the worst in 100 years and affects close to 130 million people.
  • Morocco – the government has set aside $633 million to help fight the latest drought. It is thought to be the worst drought in 10 years and affects 70% of the country’s farm land.

That brings us to the end of another environment article. As ever, if you have any questions about anything we’ve discussed, then we’d be happy to hear from you.

If you’re in the market for a filtration system then don’t miss our guide to reverse osmosis systems.

More Sources:

Understanding the Drought Phenomenon: The Role of Definitions. Water International 10(3):111–120. D.A. Wilhite & M.H. Glantz, 1985.


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