Drought is one of nature’s costliest disasters — across the globe, more frequent and prolonged droughts are up nearly by a third since 2000. No country or region is immune to their impacts, which cost the global economy billions of dollars each year and range from the loss of life, livelihoods and biodiversity to water and food insecurity, disruption in the energy, transportation and tourism sectors, as well as forced migration, displacement and conflicts over scarce resources.
As drought resilience and preparedness are taking center stage in the global efforts to bolster economies and communities against natural disasters, a new collaboration between the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is particularly timely.
Through a cooperation agreement signed Jan. 26 by Ibrahim Thiaw, UNCCD’s executive secretary; Michael Boehm, vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources; and Mark Svoboda, director of the Drought Center and associate professor; the Nebraska-based center is tasked with recommending approaches to integrated drought risk management focused on drought-smart, land-based solutions.
The Drought Center will also serve as a think tank on emerging drought policy issues, convening independent scientific debate on drought resilience and providing methodological guidance on knowledge management related to the Sustainable Development Goal targets of building disaster resilience, mitigating water scarcity and achieving land degradation neutrality.
Thiaw welcomed the new agreement by saying that it will help foster better collaboration between the United Nations team, and local and national institutions, and to develop and share best practices on drought resilience and adaptation.
“Through this partnership, we will increase access to information and knowledge and will be able to provide technical guidance and support to countries and communities to build their capacity to manage drought risk and vulnerability,” Thiaw said.
Svoboda said the agreement is the next step in formalizing a drought risk management collaboration between the United Nations and Drought Center.
“We look forward to this next stage, building on the NDMC’s long track record with international drought planning,” Svoboda said.
The agreement builds on the successful cooperation between the two teams during the past decade.
The Drought Center, whose mission is to reduce the effects of drought on people, the environment and the economy by researching the science of drought monitoring and the practice of drought planning, is an active participant in several drought-related initiatives spearheaded by the convention, including the Intergovernmental Working Group on Drought, the UNCCD Science-Policy Interface and the UNCCD-led Drought Toolbox. These platforms are focused on supporting decision-makers and practitioners in adopting timely, proactive and coordinated approach to drought risk management.
“For more than 25 years, the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has provided invaluable guidance to communities and other entities across the United States and around the world seeking to understand drought, plan for drought events and ultimately reduce the negative effects of such events,” Boehm said. “It is an honor to work with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification to offer these essential tools more broadly to combat drought and improve lives worldwide.”
The future collaboration is envisioned as a working partnership that will utilize the latest science to help reduce the high human, social and economic costs of drought and water scarcity. The partnership will focus on recommending methods for integrated drought risk management that prioritize a strategic shift from emergency response to building long-term resilience through early warning, vulnerability assessment and risk mitigation.
Catalyzing political will and accelerating action to enable such a shift is the ambition of the International Drought Resilience Alliance launched last November at the UN Climate Summit, which brings together 30 countries and more than 20 entities.
At the forefront of these efforts is the drought-smart sustainable land management: adapted to the national and regional contexts, it has the potential to buffer ecosystems and communities against drought so that periods of water scarcity do not escalate to humanitarian or ecological disasters.