Opportunities to Reduce Vulnerability to Drought are Within Reach, Says New Report

May 9, 2016

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2016 – As extreme drought continues to hit much of Sub-Saharan Africa, leaving millions of people in need of emergency assistance, a new report led by the World Bank focuses on interventions that could increase long term resilience to drought. Launched at the First Great Green Wall Conference held in Dakar, the report Confronting Drought in Africa’s Drylands: Opportunities for Enhancing Resilience estimates that a set of interventions could help reduce the impact of drought by about half in Africa’s drylands. This will keep on average 5 million people per year out of danger in areas that constitute some of Africa’s poorest zones.

Drylands, which are hot spots of natural disasters, are at the core of Africa’s development challenge,” said Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa. “If we are to achieve lasting poverty reduction, it is imperative to better manage the impacts of extreme weather and climate variability, as the number of people living in drylands and competing for scarce resources will increase.”

Confronting Drought in Africa’s Drylands focuses on a subset of countries in East and West Africa that contain large arid, semi-arid, and sub-humid areas and are home to over 300 million people. Frequent and severe shocks, especially droughts, already limit livelihood opportunities, undermine efforts to eradicate poverty, and require emergency aid. The future promises to be even more challenging: population growth and an expansion of drylands due to climate change could increase the number of people living in a challenging environment by up to 70 percent by 2030.

But better management of livestock, agriculture and natural resources could help enhance people’s resilience in the face of change. “Our research found that by investing in interventions that increase the sustainability and productivity of herding and farming, we could vastly improve the prospects for development in East and West Africa and cushion the losses that disproportionately affect poor households,” said Raffaelo Cervigni, World Bank Lead Environmental Economist and co-author of the report.

For example, in 2010 only 30 percent of pastoralist and agro-pastoralist households in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa possessed enough livestock assets to stay out of poverty in the face of recurrent droughts. To protect livestock-keeping households, productivity-enhancing interventions—such as providing improved animal health services, ensuring early off-take of young male animals, destocking quickly in the face of approaching drought, and ensuring improved access to grazing areas—could raise the share of resilient households by 50 percent.

Improved crop production technologies, soil fertility management and adding trees to current farming systems can also deliver resilience benefits by boosting agricultural productivity and increasing drought and heat tolerance of crops. Trees growing in crop fields, in particular, can serve as sources of fertilizer while reducing water and heat stress affecting crops. Trees can also reduce households’ food insecurity by providing food when crops and animal-source foods become unavailable, and increase their coping capacity by providing assets that can be cut and sold in times of need.

Irrigation can also provide an important buffer against droughts, particularly in the less arid parts of the drylands. Analysis carried out for this report suggests that irrigation development is technically feasible and financially viable on 5 to 9 million hectares in the drylands.

Other interventions discussed in the report include integrated landscape management to restore degraded areas to functional and productive ecosystems, and reducing barriers to trade so that food is more available and more affordable, including after a shock hits. The authors estimate that the cost of well-targeted, location-specific technical interventions would amount to US$ 0.4 billion to 1.3 billion per year.

These costs compare favorably with the costs of emergency assistance and are within reach of current development budgets,” said Michael Morris, World Bank Lead Agricultural Economist and report co-author. “Most importantly, unlike short-term remedies, these interventions can lay the foundation for durable development by allowing people to build enough assets to get out of poverty and stay out of poverty.”

The report concedes that even under optimistic assumptions about the spread of resilience-enhancing interventions, a significant share of the population living in drylands will remain vulnerable to shocks in 2030. Governments will need to provide support in the form of social safety nets and to invest in human and physical capital to facilitate a gradual transition to livelihoods that are less reliant on natural resources.

Confronting Drought in Africa’s Drylands was prepared by the World Bank working with a large coalition of partners including government agencies, regional organizations, multilateral development agencies, research institutes, and non-governmental organizations who provided background papers and notes, to contribute to the ongoing dialogue about measures to reduce the vulnerability and enhance the resilience of populations living in dryland areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. 

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