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Droughts only expected to worsen with time, U.N. agencies warn

August 21, 2012 | 11:48 am


As American farms and African villages suffer the ravages of drought, international experts are warning that countries across the globe are sorely in need of plans to cope with the problem. The dire effects, they say, are only expected to get worse.

Climate change is expected to make droughts more common, more intense and more enduring, affecting food, water and energy across the globe, a gaggle of United Nations agencies said Tuesday.

Their warnings come in a punishing summer: July marked some of the hottest temperatures on record and was the 329th consecutive month in which global temperatures were above the 20th century average, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Roughly two-thirds of the continental United States has suffered from drought this summer, harming crops, driving up corn prices and worsening wildfires.

In India, a weaker-than-usual monsoon season has hurt farmers and been tagged as one possible factor in the vast blackouts that struck the country weeks ago. Food prices worldwide surged 6% in July after dropping for several months, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization index.

The suffering inflicted by drought has been especially stark in the Sahel region of western Africa, where millions are estimated to be at risk of not having enough food.  Some families in Niger resorted to eating wild leaves, the World Food Organization said this spring.

Yet only Australia has a national policy to handle drought, U.N. climate prediction official Mannava Sivakumar told reporters Tuesday. The World Meteorological Organization, the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification and other groups are gearing up for an international summit on the problem in March, hoping to nudge countries toward better strategies for conserving water.

“Developing and developed countries alike are vulnerable,” Luc Gnacadja, executive secretary of the UNCCD, said in their Tuesday statement, calling for “effective long-term solutions.”


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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: A dead fish lies several feet from the water in Lake Corpus Christi near Mathis, Texas, on Monday as the lake continues to shrink due to this year's drought. Credit: Todd Yates / Associated Press / Corpus Christi Caller-Times