Monitoring Drought from Space

Drought is a creeping disaster and a silent killer. It rolls back development gains and exacerbates poverty, especially in least developed countries. Due to climate change, the frequency, severity and duration of droughts will likely be more serious in the future. ESCAP focus on drought is proactive, not reactive, as taking action once drought has occurred is more costly and less effective than acting preemptively.

The socio-economic and environmental impacts of droughts have increased significantly, particularly among the most vulnerable groups in Asia and the Pacific. Between 1985 and 2013, 110 drought events occurred in the region, affecting 1.2 billion people and costing US$52 billion. The tragic consequences of drought include:

  • Loss of human life and livelihoods
  • Reduced water and food security
  • Increase in debt among farmers
  • Deepening poverty with intergenerational consequences
  • Farmer suicides
  • Potential for unrest and violence
  • Land degradation and desertification

In order to save lives and livelihoods, time is of the essence. Signs of drought can be observed from space long before they are visible to the human eye on the ground. Therefore, space-based data is a vital complement to ground-based information in combating drought. However, there is a lack of resources and capacity to perform such analysis in many drought-prone developing countries. It is critical and urgent for the Asia-Pacific region to place a stronger emphasis on preparedness by applying innovative space technologies for effective drought monitoring and early warning, through a strengthened regional cooperative mechanism and South-South Cooperation.

Through the Drought Mechanism, timely and free access to space-based data/products and services are provided to participating countries, who also receive training and other capacity building. National coordination mechanisms and policies on drought will be strengthened. Furthermore, the Drought Mechanism will serve to enhance regional cooperation and strategic partnerships, as a flagship programme under ESCAP’s long standing Regional Space Applications Programme for Sustainable Development (RESAP). Based on the information generated through the Drought Mechanism, Government authorities and the agricultural community can make evidence-based decisions on how and when to prepare for drought. This can translate to strengthening water management, adjusting crop cycles, planting drought resistant seeds and initiating timely relief measures.