Droughts often mean a shortage of water. This can be either an inconvenience (leading to a hosepipe ban for instance) or a disaster (leading to famine and loss of life). This GCSE Geography quiz looks at some of the causes and effects of drought and some ways in which we can conserve water.
We rely broadly on two things to survive - sunlight (so producers can start the food chain) and water (for hydrating us, plants and other animals). In general, people will be able to get water to drink in all but the most extreme circumstances, but a shortage of water can have other negative effects. Without adequate water, crops will die, or at least show lower yield, and animals may have to be slaughtered before they have grown to their full size. It may also be difficult to have adequate sanitation.
Droughts may have natural or human causes. As well as the larger impacts from such processes as desertification, removing large numbers of trees or allowing over-grazing, humans may also cause water shortages by building dams, diverting and modifying rivers to force water to move through the drainage basin at a much faster rate. One of the effects of this is that in periods of lower rainfall there is no water stored to help plants and animals survive.
Originally, people were able to move around and low populations were better equipped people to survive periods of drought. Early farmers only had access to local crops which had adapted to be able to survive seasonal droughts. With the influx of higher yield crops that are less able to withstand periods of hot, dry weather, the risks associated with droughts have increased.
As LEDCs and emerging economies become more developed they are starting to utilise technologies and household items that require more water. This means that water may be used in the more affluent areas and the less affluent areas will be left at dangerously low levels. Problems such as an influx of locusts, internal conflicts, or sudden severe weather can be the final straw, leading to widespread famine as there are no reserves in place.