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How Can Droughts Be Triggered By Human Activities?

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Droughts can be triggered by both natural causes, such as weather patterns and changes in ocean temperatures, as well as human activities like climate change, deforestation, and excessive irrigation. These droughts have severe impacts, including water shortages, crop failures, famine, and malnutrition. Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the socio-economic effects of drought, as seen in the current food shortages and malnutrition crisis in East Africa. Mitigation strategies such as irrigation, soil conservation, and water conservation are crucial in protecting against the impact of drought.


Droughts are becoming increasingly common around the world, leading to severe water shortages and devastating impacts on communities. While droughts can occur naturally due to weather patterns and changes in ocean temperatures, human activities are also major contributors to the occurrence and severity of droughts. This article will explore how human activities can trigger droughts and the significant impact they have on both the environment and society.

What is a drought?

A drought is defined as a period of unusually dry weather caused by low rainfall and high temperatures, resulting in serious water shortages. It is a natural phenomenon that can have severe impacts on both the environment and human populations.

Droughts can occur due to natural causes such as weather patterns, changes in ocean temperatures, and the jet stream. However, increasingly, human activities are also contributing to the occurrence and severity of droughts.

Understanding the causes and effects of drought is crucial in order to develop effective strategies for mitigation and relief.

Natural causes of drought

Droughts can occur naturally due to various factors. Some of the natural causes of drought include:

Weather patterns

Weather patterns play a significant role in triggering droughts. Certain weather patterns, such as high-pressure systems and persistent ridges, can cause dry conditions by blocking the formation of rain clouds or diverting precipitation away from an area.

Changes in ocean temperatures

Changes in ocean temperatures can also contribute to the occurrence of droughts. For example, the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon, characterized by warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, can disrupt normal weather patterns and lead to reduced rainfall in certain regions.

The jet stream

The jet stream, a high-altitude wind current, can influence the occurrence of droughts. Variations in the jet stream’s position and strength can impact weather patterns, causing dry conditions in some areas.

While these natural causes of drought are beyond human control, it is important to understand their role in order to better predict and manage drought conditions.

Human causes of drought

Droughts, which are periods of unusually dry weather resulting in serious water shortages, can be triggered by both natural causes and human activities. While natural causes include weather patterns, changes in ocean temperatures, and the jet stream, human activities play a significant role in exacerbating drought conditions. Here are some of the key human causes of drought:

Climate change

Climate change, primarily driven by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, is a major contributor to droughts. Rising global temperatures lead to increased evaporation rates, which in turn reduce water availability. Additionally, climate change can disrupt rainfall patterns, causing prolonged dry spells and more frequent and severe droughts in certain regions.


Deforestation, the clearing of forests for various purposes such as agriculture, logging, and urbanization, can significantly impact the water cycle and contribute to droughts. Trees play a crucial role in regulating the water cycle by absorbing and releasing moisture through transpiration. When forests are cleared, the land loses its ability to retain water, leading to reduced rainfall and increased vulnerability to drought.

Intensive farming

Intensive farming practices, characterized by the heavy use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, can contribute to drought conditions. Excessive use of water for irrigation can deplete water sources, leading to water scarcity in surrounding areas. Moreover, the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides can degrade soil quality, making it less capable of retaining water and exacerbating the impacts of drought.

High water demand

The increasing demand for water due to population growth, urbanization, and industrial activities puts additional pressure on water resources and can contribute to droughts. When water consumption exceeds the available supply, it can lead to water scarcity and exacerbate drought conditions.


Over-farming, which involves cultivating the same crop repeatedly without allowing the land to recover, can deplete soil moisture and contribute to drought conditions. The continuous extraction of water from the soil without proper management practices can lead to reduced water availability and increased vulnerability to drought.

Excessive irrigation

Excessive irrigation, particularly inefficient irrigation practices, can contribute to droughts. When irrigation systems are poorly designed or maintained, water can be wasted through evaporation, runoff, or deep percolation. This not only depletes water sources but also reduces the amount of water available for other uses, exacerbating drought conditions.


Erosion, caused by activities such as improper land management, deforestation, and construction, can contribute to drought conditions. When soil erosion occurs, it reduces the land’s ability to absorb and retain water, leading to increased runoff and reduced water availability for vegetation and ecosystems.

Impact of Drought

Droughts have severe impacts on both the environment and human populations. Here are some of the key consequences of drought:

Water Shortages

Droughts result in a significant decrease in water availability. This can lead to water shortages in affected areas, making it difficult for people to meet their basic needs such as drinking, cooking, and sanitation.

Crop Failures

Lack of rainfall and water scarcity during droughts can cause crops to wither and fail. This leads to reduced agricultural productivity, food shortages, and increased food prices.


In more severe cases, prolonged droughts can result in famine. The scarcity of water and failed crops can lead to widespread hunger and malnutrition, particularly in vulnerable populations.


Droughts can contribute to malnutrition as the availability of nutritious food decreases. This can have long-term effects on the health and development of individuals, particularly children.

Increase in Diseases

Droughts can create favorable conditions for the spread of diseases. Water scarcity can lead to poor sanitation and hygiene practices, increasing the risk of waterborne diseases such as cholera. Additionally, droughts can impact the availability of clean water for drinking, leading to dehydration and other health issues.


Dry conditions during droughts increase the risk of wildfires. With vegetation and forests becoming dry and more flammable, wildfires can spread rapidly, causing extensive damage to ecosystems, property, and human lives.


In some cases, droughts can force people to leave their homes and communities in search of water and better living conditions. This can result in internal displacement or even migration to other regions or countries.


Droughts can exacerbate existing tensions and conflicts over limited water resources. Competition for water can lead to disputes between communities, regions, or even countries, further destabilizing already fragile situations.

It is clear that droughts have far-reaching consequences, impacting not only the environment but also the socio-economic well-being of communities. Implementing effective mitigation and relief strategies is crucial to minimize the negative impacts of drought and protect vulnerable populations.

Vulnerability of developing countries

Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to the socio-economic effects of drought. These countries often lack the resources and infrastructure to effectively cope with and recover from droughts. Here are some reasons why developing countries are more susceptible:

Limited access to water resources

Many developing countries already face water scarcity issues, with limited access to clean and reliable water sources. Drought exacerbates this problem, leading to severe water shortages for both domestic and agricultural use. Without sufficient water resources, communities struggle to meet their basic needs and sustain their livelihoods.

Agricultural dependence

A significant portion of the population in developing countries relies on agriculture for their income and food security. Droughts can devastate crops, leading to reduced yields, failed harvests, and loss of income for farmers. This not only affects the livelihoods of individuals but also impacts the overall food security of the country.

Lack of infrastructure and technology

Developing countries often lack the necessary infrastructure and technology to effectively manage and mitigate the impacts of drought. Limited irrigation systems, inadequate water storage facilities, and outdated farming practices make it challenging to adapt to water scarcity and ensure sustainable agricultural practices.

Poverty and inequality

Poverty and inequality further exacerbate the vulnerability of developing countries to drought. Impoverished communities have limited resources to cope with the impacts of drought, such as purchasing food or accessing alternative water sources. Additionally, marginalized groups, such as women and children, often bear the brunt of the consequences, facing increased health risks and reduced access to education and opportunities.

Addressing the vulnerability of developing countries to drought requires a multi-faceted approach that includes improving water infrastructure, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, reducing poverty and inequality, and providing support and resources during times of crisis.

Case study: East Africa

East Africa is currently experiencing a severe drought, leading to widespread food shortages and near-famine conditions. The region is facing one of the worst droughts in decades, with millions of people at risk of starvation.

The lack of rainfall has resulted in crop failures and a scarcity of water for both drinking and irrigation. As a result, food production has drastically decreased, leaving many communities without access to an adequate food supply.

One of the most devastating consequences of the drought in East Africa is the high prevalence of severe acute malnutrition in children. Malnutrition rates have skyrocketed, putting the lives of millions of children at risk. Without access to nutritious food, these children are more susceptible to diseases and long-term health issues.

The impact of the drought on East Africa is not limited to food shortages and malnutrition. The lack of water has also led to an increase in waterborne diseases, as people are forced to rely on contaminated water sources. Additionally, the dry conditions have heightened the risk of wildfires, further exacerbating the already dire situation.

Efforts are being made to provide assistance to the affected communities in East Africa. Organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are working to provide health programming, food and cash assistance, and clean water provision. They are also implementing a streamlined approach to treating malnutrition to reach as many children in need as possible.

The case of East Africa serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact that droughts can have on vulnerable communities. It highlights the urgent need for sustainable water management, climate change mitigation, and support for those affected by droughts.

Agricultural practices

One of the key strategies to mitigate the impact of drought is through implementing effective agricultural practices. These practices can help optimize water usage and ensure the sustainability of agricultural activities even during periods of low rainfall. Two important agricultural practices that can contribute to drought mitigation are irrigation and crop rotation.


Irrigation involves the controlled application of water to crops, supplementing natural rainfall. By providing water directly to the plants’ root zones, irrigation helps to ensure their survival and growth, even in dry conditions. Various irrigation techniques, such as drip irrigation and sprinkler systems, can be employed to maximize water efficiency and minimize wastage.

Crop rotation

Crop rotation is the practice of growing different crops in a specific sequence on the same piece of land. This technique helps to improve soil health, prevent nutrient depletion, and reduce the risk of pests and diseases. Additionally, crop rotation can contribute to drought mitigation by diversifying water requirements among different crops. Some crops may be more drought-tolerant than others, allowing for better water management during periods of water scarcity.

Soil conservation measures

Implementing soil conservation measures is crucial in protecting against the impact of drought. These measures aim to improve soil structure, enhance water retention capacity, and reduce erosion, which can exacerbate drought conditions. Some effective soil conservation practices include:

  • Terracing: Creating level platforms on slopes to reduce water runoff and soil erosion.
  • Contour plowing: Plowing along the contour lines of the land to minimize water runoff and soil erosion.
  • Cover cropping: Planting cover crops, such as legumes or grasses, to protect the soil from erosion and improve its fertility.
  • Conservation tillage: Reducing or eliminating tillage to minimize soil disturbance and preserve soil moisture.

Water conservation efforts

Conserving water is essential in drought-prone regions to ensure its availability for both agricultural and domestic use. Some effective water conservation efforts include:

  • Water-efficient irrigation systems: Installing modern irrigation systems that minimize water wastage, such as drip irrigation or precision sprinklers.
  • Rainwater harvesting: Collecting and storing rainwater for later use, reducing reliance on other water sources.
  • Water recycling: Treating and reusing wastewater for non-potable purposes, such as irrigation or industrial processes.
  • Water-efficient practices: Encouraging water-saving habits, such as fixing leaks, using water-efficient appliances, and practicing responsible water usage.

By implementing these mitigation and relief strategies, communities can better adapt to drought conditions, reduce water stress, and ensure the sustainability of agricultural activities even in the face of water scarcity.


  1. https://www.rescue.org/uk/article/what-drought-causes-impact-and-how-we-can-help
  2. https://icdo.org/about-icdo/disasters/drought.html
  3. https://brainly.in/question/37622597

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