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Drought and its impact on food security

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More frequent and severe droughts caused by climate change are a challenge to ensuring food security around the globe. To help countries cope with this hazard, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is developing a monitoring system that can provide early warning of drought, determine its severity, and deliver that information to farmers in a timely manner. Donn Bobb found out more from Manava Sivakumar, director of climate prediction and adaptation at WMO, who is attending the climate conference in Copenhagen.

SIVAKUMAR: The IPCC assessment report shows very clearly that climate change that we are currently witnessing is going to result in increasing frequency and magnitude of drought. And we have seen that. The evidence has been very clear in the past 5 to 6 years that in many semi-arid regions of the world there is an increasing frequency of drought.

BOBB: And what is the impact of the drought on the food security?

SIVAKUMAR: When we talk of food security, we ought to remember that drought impacts rain-fed crop production a lot. 82% of the arable land in the world is rain-fed. Only 18% is irrigated. Only in the irrigated areas droughts do not carry an impact, because irrigation takes care of the shortfall in rainfall. But in the rest of the world, the 82% of the land that I mentioned, any shortfall in rainfall would lead to an impact on the food production because of the impact of drought on the rain-fed crop production.

BOBB: Can you point to any particular instances in any countries where it's having a major impact?

SIVAKUMAR: Currently in 2009, Kenya is going through a very serious drought. In the pastoral parts of Kenya, they have shown that what used to be a drought once in 10 years is now drought every 2 to 3 years. So as a result, many of the Nomads that have been depending upon the kind of livelihood that they have been practicing for more than thousands of years is now threatened because of this increasing frequency of droughts. They do not have any fodder for their livestock; Many of the livestock are perishing; They were depending on the livestock for even their food needs, and then if livestock are perishing then, of course, there is this whole issue of food insecurity. So, what I have seen reports from Kenya is that most of these Nomads are really asking - How are we going to live in this changing scenario?

BOBB: What of Asia?

SIVAKUMAR: China, there was a shortfall in northern parts of China that really impacted the wheat production. And this year in the early part of the rainy season, India went through some very serious drought as well. There were parts of India that were affected by drought. Some parts of India recovered in the latter part of the rainy season, but there were parts of India that were affected.

BOBB: Final question. Solutions?

SIVAKUMAR: Solution is we must have an effective drought preparedness plan. As a part of the drought preparedness plan, one of the important aspects is the drought monitoring. So, we must have very good networks in place to monitor droughts, and that's the reason why we are recommending this standardized precipitation index that will enable us to have a more stronger monitoring system in place that will enable us to give better early warnings about droughts.

Producer: Donn Bobb, United Nations Radio
Duration: 2'25"