Southern African Regional Poverty Network (SARPN) SARPN thematic photo
Regional themes > Food security Last update: 2020-11-27  

 Related documents

Drought risk and development policy

Discussion Paper

UNDP Drylands Development Centre

31 January - 2 February 2005

This discussion paper was prepared for a recent UNDP Drylands Development Centre forum on Drought Risk and Development Policy in Africa.
It was held in Nairobi from the 31 January - 02 February 2005.
The full set of presentations and workshop summary can be accessed from:
[Download complete version - 1.4Mb ~ 8 min (33 pages)]     [ Share with a friend  ]

Modern society has distinct advantages over those civilizations of the past that suffered or even collapsed for reasons linked to water. We have great knowledge, and the capacity to disperse that knowledge to the remotest places on earth. We are also beneficiaries of scientific leaps that have improved weather forecasting, agricultural practices, natural resources management, disaster prevention, preparedness and management…But only a rationale and informed political, social and cultural response – and public participation in all stages of the disaster management cycle – can reduce disaster vulnerability, and ensure that hazards do not turn into unmanageable disasters.
Kofi Annan
Message on World Water Day 2004

Table of Content:
  1. Introduction - 374Kb ~ 2 min (5 pages)

  2. The way we think about drought risk affects the way we manage it - 303Kb ~ 2 min (4 pages)

  3. Relationship(s) between drought, food security and sustainable development - 190Kb ~ 1 min (4 pages)

  4. Drought and society: Towards policy options - 1Mb ~ 6 min (10 pages)

  5. How can the policy process be influenced such that risk is seen as integral component of development? - 162Kb ~ 1 min (3 pages)

  6. The role(s) of ‘external’ players in assisting countries enhance their resilience to drought - 158Kb ~ 1 min (2 pages)


This discussion paper argues that policy makers in countries which are chronically drought-prone and where this has a significant development impact need to be more aware that their decisions - even in areas which may seem unrelated to drought - may actually increase vulnerability at household and higher level to impacts from drought. It also argues that well-informed decision making can simultaneously increase net resilience to the impacts of drought whilst advancing other development objectives; having the same resources at their disposal but simply organized in a different manner. This implies that chronically drought-impacted societies need to put drought near the centre of their sustainable development priorities or risk reversing even national development gains in a number of areas. There is ample evidence of the cost of ignoring this principle. Unfortunately, the tendency to compartmentalize development has led to different groups each addressing only one or two areas of development, unaware of the interactions with others. This paper demonstrates that drought, water management and food security are not just rural or agricultural issues. It demonstrates that societies can choose to insure themselves against drought in many ways, which might include trading their way out of inadequate in situ crop production, and through the trade in virtual water.

The implication of these arguments is that policy makers require awareness, knowledge in suitable forms, analytical methods and consultative processes to identify what the drought vulnerability implications will likely be of a particular development choice. In particular they need to be able to predict the potential impacts on drought vulnerability for various segments of the population. It should be openly recognized that virtually all policy making involves decisions which imply reallocation of resources and therefore that policy making is an inherently political process. There is nothing wrong with this as long as there is genuine participation of the groups potentially affected. This is often not the case with the groups most vulnerable to drought impacts; drylands populations (particularly pastoralists) who are typically marginalized, politically, socially and economically. As such, the question of drought vulnerability is just as much a question of – indeed a test of – governance as it is of the technical capacity of meteorological services.

Policy makers may tend to ignore the potential political implications of issues of reallocation, power structures and unrepresentative decision making by presenting water and food security as technical issues: simply inadequate rainfall, poor infrastructure, lack of technical knowledge etc. In some cases it may genuinely be a question of a sub-optimal assignment of resources to achieve development. In other cases there may be a lack of awareness of how policy decisions in areas which may appear remote from drought can have significant influence on vulnerability to drought. Many policy decisions can be critical in determining whether a shortfall of rain triggers a disaster or simply a short-term change in prices.

This assertion is substantiated by the UNDP analysis cited in this report, which reveals that even countries in the same drought exposure category and GNP class can have very different levels of drought impacts. Furthermore, an examination at the sub-national scale would likely reveal distributions of the costs and benefits of existing policies which mirror the power structure in those societies. This can make it difficult to implement policies which would result in the greatest decrease in vulnerability to drought, as marginalised groups are typically the most vulnerable to natural hazards and yet the least able to influence policy. This presents an opportunity for partnership, for addressing drought risk through the optic of a development problematic in order to create a critical mass for change.

Octoplus Information Solutions Top of page | Home | Contact SARPN | Disclaimer