South-East Asia has long experienced severe droughts. However, this second edition of Ready for the Dry Years reveals that the severity of two drought events during 2015-2016 and 2018-2020 exceed anything recorded in the past two decades, since the major El Niño of 1997-1998. Evidence presented in the Report shows that this could be set to continue as the climate warms. There is a direct association between high temperatures and droughts in South-East Asia, and multiple climate models project that the region will experience higher temperatures for all emission scenarios. Ultimately this means that growth in the severity and geographic extent of droughts is only expected to continue as the climate crisis deepens.
The Ready for the Dry Years publication series is part of the effort to mobilize a region-wide action as the drought risk intensifies. This edition expands the geographical coverage of the first edition and combines rainfall data with other socio-economic indicators to reveal the hotspots where the populations are most vulnerable to drought. It takes a holistic approach to understanding drought impacts by adopting a standard definition of drought across the region and by examining the issue from socioeconomic, health, environmental, and humanitarian perspectives.
Compared with other disasters, droughts are fairly predictable, yet policy responses still tend to be largely reactive. This Report builds a case for ushering in a paradigm shift towards more proactive drought management across South-East Asia while leveraging the innovative measures underway within Member States. Accordingly, it advocates for policies along three policy tracks: reduce and prevent; prepare and respond; and restore and recover. Many institutions in South-East Asia have extensive expertise in the relevant scientific disciplines which countries can capitalize on through greater regional cooperation.
The Report proposes three further priority actions for reinforcing this cooperation in a regional drought agenda for adapting to risk in a changing climate. Establishing this agenda will require Member States to adopt an ASEAN declaration on drought, support cross-sectoral initiatives for drought adaptation, and address human and ecosystem vulnerabilities in drought hotspots. The findings of the Report will provide important evidence to support each priority action.
This Report comes at a critical time. The cyclical and slow-onset nature of drought provide governments with a critical opportunity to act now with risk-informed measures that will strengthen the capacity of institutions, sectors and populations to cope, before the next drought comes along. ASEAN Member States are seizing this opportunity; the Report is providing evidence for the ASEAN Declaration on the Strengthening of Adaptation to Drought and the subsequent Regional Plan of Action. The economic recovery from the pandemic provides an opportunity for governments to scale-up proactive drought management, as stimulus packages can be expanded to accommodate measures for drought resilience.