Recent Droughts

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Droughts occur in other parts of the United States with some frequency, but on an irregular schedule. They may be mild and last only a year or two. Other droughts can be prolonged and last for five, six, or more years. They range from mild, to severe, to extreme. During 2007, Georgia, Alabama, and areas of Florida suffered an extreme drought that was unprecedented. Lakes, ponds, and streams ran out of water and became dry. Wells and other sources of water were depleted, causing significant political turmoil.

Besides a meteorological and an agricultural drought, the area was experiencing a hydrological drought. The water resources had not been husbanded with sufficient stewardship to make them last well during the drought. Some areas of the world, such as the Aral Sea, and a lesser extent the Caspian Sea, have experienced hydrological drought because water resources have been used beyond the limits of precipitation needed to restore them to normal levels in wet years.

Political disputes, in 2007, over the distribution of water by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Lake Lanier in north Georgia into the Chat-tahoochee River involved many parties. The politics of drought, in this case, involved not only the federal government, but also the governments of the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, as well as many of their cities and counties. In addition, power companies that use riparian waters in the generation of electricity were involved in the controversies that the drought evoked.

The drought also brought ecologists, state environmentalists, and others concerned about the survival of plants and animals into conflict with businesses and developers. Species of mussels in the lower Chattahoochee could become extinct if water levels drop too severely. They are a harbinger species, like canaries in coalmines in earlier times, which were used to detect the presence of dangerous quantities of gas that threatened life. Their loss could be much more important than just the loss of an inedible species that plays a role in cleansing impurities from river water, aiding the survival of fish species.

The drought in the southeastern United States in 2007 is believed to be connected with global warming. It may just be a cyclical shift in the positioning of normal summertime high-pressure air masses usually centered westward over Bermuda. Most scientists believe that the drought conditions in the United States may be the result of global warming, but in order to state that climate has changed, long periods of weather activity must occur, be recorded, and then examined for permanent changes in patterns.

In other parts of the world, droughts have caused famines resulting in the deaths of those who live a subsistence life in arid lands at the edge of deserts. The people of Mongolia, of the Sahel, which is the arid transition zone between the Sahara Desert and the savannah lands to the south, of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, Australia, the Middle East and Central Asia, and other places have long lived with recurring periods of drought.

Historians have concluded that periods of drought also stimulate mass movements of people. When drought occurred in Mongolia, the weakest tribes were driven out to rampage westward across the steppes and became civilization-changing forces. It is likely that severe droughts caused by global warming will cause movements of peoples and will also contribute to political instability in many parts of the world. The instability may also lead to wars and the deaths of many people, just as the lack of water during droughts has often caused deaths from heat, famine, and consequent diseases.

Conflicts in the late 20th century and the early 21st century in the Horn of Africa and in the Dar-fur region of Sudan are directly related to prolonged drought conditions that exacerbated conflicts between tribes and peoples. Other conflicts are also connected to competition for scarce resources that are directly related to water shortages caused by droughts. Drought conflicts can bring nomads into a struggle with farmers of marginal lands. The farmers, or the nomads, if defeated, may well overrun their neighbors, causing disruptions among peoples who were not as severely affected by a drought. Drought is normal in many parts of the world, but it may be that global warming is contributing to an increase in droughts, or a shifting of the locations of droughts. Regardless, with the great increases in world population during the 20th century, it is prudent to create drought mitigation and survival plans.

SEE ALSO: Agriculture; Climatic Data, Atmospheric Observations; Desertification; Deserts; Food Production; Rain; Rainfall Patterns; Weather.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. American Water Works Association, Drought Management Handbook (American Water Works Association, 2002); Joaquin Andreu, Giuseppe Rossi, and A.V. Mayorga, eds., Drought Management and Planning for Water Resources (CRC Press, 2005); N.G. Arons, Waiting for Rain: The Politics and Poetry of Drought in Northeast Brazil (University of Arizona Press, 2004); Eric Belhassen, ed., Drought Tolerance in Higher Plants: Genetical Physiological and Molecular Biological Analysis (Springer-Verlag, 1996); V.K. Boken, R.L. Heathcote, and A.P. Cracknell, Monitoring and Predicting Agricultural Drought: A Global Study (Oxford University Press, 2004); Catherine Chambers, Drought (Heinemann, 2002); Michael Collier and R.H. Webb, Floods, Droughts and Climate Change (University of Arizona Press, 2002); Linda Courtenay, C. Botterill, and Donald A. Wilhite, eds., Response to Risk Management: Australia's National Drought Policy (Nova Biomedical Books, 2005); Timothy

Egan, The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great Dust Bowl (Houghton Mifflin, 2006); M.H. Glantz, Drought Follows the Plow: Cultivating Marginal Areas (Cambridge University Press, 2007); Gregory Knight, Ivan Raev, and M.P. Staneva, Drought in Bulgaria: A Contemporary Analogfor Climate Change (Ashgate Publishing, 2004); Jean-Marcel Ribaut, ed., Drought Adaptation in Cereals (Haworth Press, 2006); Giuseppe Rossi, L.S. Pereira, and Antonion Cancelliere, Tools for Drought Mitigation in Mediterranean Regions (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2003); D.A. Wilhite, Drought and Water Crises: Science, Technology and Management Issues (CRC Press, 2005).

Andrew J. Waskey Dalton State College

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