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Droughts Increase as World Warms


The study found that flash droughts were more common than slower ones in tropical areas like India, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Amazon basin.


GS Paper-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment: Disaster and disaster management.

Mains question

Describe the idea of “flash drought” and how it affects tropical regions’ agriculture and food security. What are the contributing causes of flash droughts, and what steps can be taken to lessen their effects? (250 words)

Key Findings:

  • In particular, in humid regions with agriculture dependent on rainfall, a study finds that human-caused climate change is to blame for an increase in the frequency of rapid-onset droughts known as flash droughts, which can harm crops within weeks.
  • According to the study, which was published in the journal Science, flash droughts will increase in frequency and speed as global warming continues. This could have serious repercussions for people living in humid regions whose livelihoods depend on rain-fed agriculture.

Rapid Onset and Disastrous Results

  • Flash droughts are a severe type of drought that happen when soil moisture is lost suddenly and quickly, causing crop damage within weeks.
    • These droughts typically occur when there should be little rain, but very little rain does.
    • This means that hot, sunny, and windy weather frequently causes large amounts of water to evaporate quickly, causing the land to dry out quickly.
  • Flash droughts are particularly harmful as they can develop very quickly, in just a few weeks, and cause severe harm to crops.
    • Because crops have not had enough time to adapt to the drought-like conditions, their effects are frequently more devastating.

Findings of the Study

  • A team led by hydrologist Xing Yuan of Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology in China examined data from computer models of soil moisture between 1951 and 2014.
  • To avoid including dry spells that were too brief to have much of an impact, they concentrated on drought episodes that lasted 20 days or longer.
    • The team discovered that in tropical regions like India, Southeast Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Amazon basin, flash droughts occurred more frequently than slower ones.The researchers also discovered that the onset speed has been increasing, even for slow droughts, indicating a shift towards more frequent and swifter flash droughts.
    • Flash droughts have largely replaced slower droughts in some areas, such as the mid-latitudes of North and South America.

What Part Climate Change Plays

  • According to the study, climate change plays a significant role in the increased frequency of flash droughts.
    • The study found that flash droughts tend to occur more frequently and with greater intensity in regions that used to experience mostly slow droughts, and that more abrupt dry spells could have serious consequences for people in humid regions who depend on rain-fed agriculture.
    • This means that areas where crops depend on rainfall for growth and survival are affected by flash droughts.

Consequences for Agriculture

  • In humid areas, agriculture that relies on precipitation for water supply is vulnerable to sudden droughts.
  • Flash droughts are particularly harmful because they can destroy crops in a matter of weeks. o Farmers are given little time to prepare and take precautions to protect their harvest. o Soil moisture, which is crucial for important ecological and hydrological functions, can also be permanently damaged if exposed to flash droughts, having long-lasting ecological effects.


  • It is crucial for policymakers to address this issue and promote climate resilience in the agriculture sector globally. Flash droughts, a phenomenon that is increasingly brought on by human-induced climate change, pose a serious threat to rain-fed agriculture globally, especially in humid regions of the world.
  • Farmers can also lessen the effects of sudden droughts by implementing appropriate agricultural practises, such as water conservation, appropriate crop selection, and land management techniques.In the end, quick action is needed to lessen the effects of flash droughts on agriculture and way of life in vulnerable areas

March 2024