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Drought

This is a shortage of water supply for an extended period and is caused by irregular or insufficient rains, inadequate use of underground water, water deposits or irrigation systems.

Droughts are slowly evolving events that last for months, years, decades or even centuries. The consequences are observed gradually: the decrease in sources of drinking water, diminishing crop water, death of animals among others.

Causes of Drought
Droughts tend to occur during summer as the weather is hot and water is quickly evaporated. In most extreme cases, they can last for years. The effect of this is the devastation of crops and livestock.

In some cases, such conditions can cause the land to dry out so much that large cracks are formed in the earth’s crust and because no plants live within the dry climate it means that the soil is not able to be held together by plant roots. This causes wind erosion.

Another cause of drought is an increased demand for the available supply of usable water. The contamination of the available water sources decreases the supply of usable water and increases the likelihood of drought.

Drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate.

Types of Drought

Meteorological Drought – This type of drought occurs when there is a prolonged period of below average precipitation, which creates a natural shortage of available water.

Agricultural Drought – This takes place when there is not enough moisture to support average crop production on farms. Although such a drought often occurs during dry, hot periods of low precipitation, it can also occur during periods of average precipitation when soil conditions or agricultural techniques require extra water.

Hydrological Drought – Such drought is associated with water reserves falling below an established statistical average. Hydrological drought can happen even during times of average or above average precipitation, if the demand for water is high and increased usage has lowered the water reserves.

Socioeconomic Drought – Socioeconomic drought is what happens when physical water shortage starts to affect people – individually and collectively.

Effects of Drought

Physical Damage
Effects will vary significantly depending on intensity, duration of the drought, extent and pre-existing conditions. A drought could affect crops, plants, trees thus causing changes to the landscape.

Health
Dehydration can occur from diminished water consumption. The possibility exists that diseases can spread as a result of poor use of limited water resources, such as diarrhoea and malnutrition; infant viral diseases, especially measles; and other diseases resulting from deficiencies and infections caused by the population’s poor general condition. All this can eventually result in death.

Agriculture and Livestock Sector
During droughts, serious shortages in food supplies are evident. As a long-term solution, it is important that research is done and consultations are held to find drought-resistant crop varieties as well as instructions on their planting and harvesting. In the livestock sector, water and feed shortages sometimes occur.

Possible measures to mitigate risks
Several strategies can be used to reduce the impact of drought.
Householders should practise efficient water management. This includes proper storage and conservation practices. Here are some tips on how to conserve water:

  1. Install water-saving devices in the home such as pressure regulator valves.
  2. Take short showers.
  3. Flush toilets less often.
  4. Wash only full loads of clothes and dishes.
  5. Water gardens only when necessary.
  6. Use water from a bucket to wash your car. You can use a hose with a shut-off nozzle for the final rinse.
  7. Do not use running water to thaw frozen meats.
  8. Don’t let water run while brushing your teeth, shaving or washing your face.
  9. Repair all leaks and make sure the tap is turned off fully at all times.

Other strategies to reduce the impact of drought:

  • Crop diversification, plant crops with low water consumption
  • The use of deep-origin water
  • The supply of inputs and technology to guarantee survival of livestock

Major Droughts in Antigua and Barbuda

  • Drought from 1863 to 1865 made an impact on mortality of 47.8 per 1,000.
  • Antigua went through one of its worst droughts in modern times between 1983 and 1985. Its effects were significant on all life forms. The impact was felt quite severely in the agriculture sector, especially livestock. Government had to import water from Dominica. Out of this came the purchase and installation of the Desalination Plant at Crabbs in 1987.
  • 1993-94, Antigua again experienced a severe drought. The effects were not as harsh as previous incidents. Small farmers were hardest hit.