“We’ve got a drought here that is now embracing three winters, and that’s why it’s serious,” said Terry J. Marsh, head of the National Hydrological Monitoring Programme at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in Britain.
A year ago it was mainly farmers concerned about dry conditions, “but now concern extends to the environment and most particularly water resources.”
Prolonged dry spells have threatened parts of China, Russia, Australia, France, Spain, Portugal and the southern United States in recent years – affecting food output but also raising worries about the long-term stability of water supplies.
There is no universal ruling on whether these occurrences are cyclical nuisances or evidence of changing climate patterns that could grow more severe in the decades ahead. But there is general agreement that humans need to change their consumption habits and become more efficient water users.
“Climate variability is something humanity has faced throughout our history,” says Jan Lundqvist, senior scientific advisor at the Stockholm International Water Institute, “but the severity of the droughts is increasing.”
Last month, UN officials appealed to the European Union and other donors for food and water to prevent some 10 million people from starving in Africa’s parched Sahel region, just months after the worst drought in more than 50 years caused food crisis in East Africa.