No fewer than 34 African countries were affected by drought from 2015 to 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
FAO Director-General José da Silva told an international seminar in Rome, Italy, that more than 250,000 people perished from hunger in the 2011 drought in Somalia.
Da Silva said the need for global drought re-boot was pressing, pointing out that the many impacts of drought are not only hunger and instability but economic losses up to eight billion dollars each year.
He added that “as the planet’s climate changes, severe dry spells are becoming more and more frequent.
“Since the 1970s, the land area in the world affected by situations of drought has doubled and the burden is especially high in developing countries, where agriculture remains an economic mainstay.
“Over 80 percent of damage and losses caused by drought are born by agriculture in the developing world, and Africa, in particular, has borne the brunt because between 2005 and 2016, 34 African nations were affected.
“At today’s event, FAO and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) signed a memorandum of understanding to deepen their cooperation.”
The FAO boss said the two organisations would cooperate in improving agro-meteorological data, tools and methods, as well as enhance access by small farmers to products and services to help them anticipate and proactively prepare for droughts.
Da Silva then called for a reboot of drought responses to focus more on preparedness.
Investing in preparedness and building the resilience of farmers was fundamental to cope with extreme drought, because responding to such situations when they hit might be too late, he said.
He stressed that people die not because they were not prepared to face the impacts of drought, but because their livelihoods were not resilient enough.
“Saving livelihoods means saving lives – this is what building resilience is all about,” he added, noting that for years, the focus has been responding to droughts when they happen, rushing to provide emergency assistance and to keep people alive.
According to him, while these emergency responses are important, investing in preparedness and resilience puts countries on a footing to act quickly before it is too late, meaning that farmers and rural communities are better positioned to cope with extreme weather when it does hit.
WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas, said “WMO provides guidance and scientific information to strengthen national services responsible for addressing drought risks to agriculture”.
“We encourage countries to take early action against drought and to move toward a more proactive approach”.
International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) President Gilbert Houngbo in his remarks, emphasised the need to break the cycle of crisis, disaster and relief.
Houngbo called on the international community to be proactive and to think not just of today’s emergencies, but also of how to prevent tomorrow’s.
“This means investing in smallholder farmers to help them address productivity challenges, give them access to markets and finance and most importantly encourage climate-smart agriculture so that when the drought inevitably comes, they have the tools they need to survive and thrive,” Houngbo said.