World Bank, OCHA Focus on Preventing “Misery in Slow Motion” of Drought
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The World Bank publication titled, ‘Uncharted Waters: The New Economics of Water Scarcity and Variability,’ discusses the far-reaching impact of erratic rainfall and climate change on “farms, firms and families".

An OCHA overview discusses “staggering levels of structural, chronic and acute vulnerability” in the Sahel, but also highlighted signs of hope where “the chronic seasonal cycle” has been broken.

Ethiopia and Tunisia offer examples of successful national strategies to rehabilitate degraded land and improve livelihoods for communities affected by chronic drought and food insecurity.

24 October 2017: The World Bank publication titled, ‘Uncharted Waters: The New Economics of Water Scarcity and Variability,’ discusses the far-reaching impact of erratic rainfall and climate change on “farms, firms and families.” It describes drought as “misery in slow motion,” and calling for integrated and mutually reinforcing solutions. Building on a similar premise in its 2017 overview of the humanitarian situation in the Sahel, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) outlined “staggering levels of structural, chronic and acute vulnerability,” but also highlighted signs of hope where “the chronic seasonal cycle” has been broken. Ethiopia and Tunisia offer two examples of resilient approaches through their implementation of national strategies to rehabilitate degraded land and improve livelihoods for affected communities.

Drought-induced decline in agricultural productivity leads to food deficits equivalent to the amount of food that could feed “about 81 million people every day, for the entire year.”

The World Bank report estimates that drought-induced decline in agricultural productivity leads to food deficits equivalent to the amount of food that could feed “about 81 million people every day, for the entire year.” It highlights the negative spiral that is set in motion as drought-affected farmers are forced to expand their farmland into nearby forests to grow more food, which in turn further impacts the water supply, destroys carbon sinks and exacerbates climate change, causing more droughts. With regard to interlinkages among water scarcity, poverty and conflict, the report notes that increased global demand is driving water deficits in areas of particularly high population growth, which are also often poor, fragile or in conflict, hence exacerbating existing problems for vulnerable populations. The report also discusses links to health and well-being, stating that for far too many families, “rainfall is destiny,” as crop failures lead to nutritional deficits among children, who may subsequently be physically stunted and unable to reach their full cognitive potential, and with the impacts likely to “ripple through generations.”

The report states that for cities and businesses, “the economic cost of droughts is four times greater than that of floods, with even more severe and longer-lasting effects.” This is particularly acute for firms in the informal sector, whose sales can fall by as much as 35%, the report notes.

Framing these challenges against the backdrop of countries’ sustainable development aspirations, the authors note that “countries might grow, but they will not develop, exacerbating poverty and misery.” The report concludes that current water management solutions are “outdated,” and calls for mutually reinforcing solutions including: sending the right economic signals by incentivizing and encouraging farmers to cultivate drought resistant crops in water-scarce regions; introducing safety nets such as conditional cash transfers and drought insurance triggered for vulnerable families; and improving urban water supply infrastructure and water regulation to reduce wastage while ensuring water access for the poorest consumers. [World Bank Press Release] [Publication: Uncharted Waters: The New Economics of Water Scarcity and Variability]

In its overview of humanitarian needs and requirements in the Sahel in 2017, OCHA reported that approximately one-fifth of the region’s 150 million inhabitants faced food insecurity, with almost 12 million people experiencing this at crisis and emergency levels, especially in the conflict-affected regions of Mali and the Lake Chad Basin. Yet, the report highlighted progress in more stable countries, such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Senegal, where humanitarian action has been “fully aligned” with resilience and development frameworks. To boost such promising outcomes, the report underlines the shift in the regional approach in recent years, away from delivering aid to address acute need and its drivers, towards “ending need wherever possible.” [OCHA Sahel Update]

Ethiopia is emerging as an African success story for its efforts to put in place more structural and integrated response to food insecurity, drought and other vulnerabilities. In a bid to shift the focus from emergency drought response, Ethiopia embarked on a multi-donor funded initiative to integrate the humanitarian food aid system with its longstanding Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). One of the main objectives of PSNP was to protect households from the negative impacts of shock by providing safety nets in a predictable and regular manner. Over a 12-year period, the programme provided cash or food transfers to millions of people living in chronically food-insecure and drought-affected areas, with its food-for-work component also supporting community-based projects related to landscape restoration, irrigation, and agro-forestry.

The upgraded programme, known as the Rural Productive Safety Net Project (RPSNP), aims to create a common operational framework to enhance the selection, administration, and payments to an estimated eight million chronically food-insecure rural inhabitants. One of a pool of 11 donors supporting the project, the World Bank approved a US$600 million grant for the RPSNP in September 2017, under its International Development Association (IDA) funding window.

Announcing the grant, Carolyn Turk, World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia Sudan and South Sudan said RPSNP “sets a very good example” of how, in practice, development and humanitarian efforts can be combined to better respond to the needs of the poor and most vulnerable. The World Bank cites studies indicating that PSNP clients “are more resilient to droughts and have the capacity to bounce back twice as fast as households outside of programme.” In addition, the PSNP’s public works component is credited with restoring 1.2 million hectares of land through soil and water conservation activities. [World Bank Press Release]

Tunisia offers another example of large-scale land restoration, centered on the country’s extensive system of oases. To address growing concerns around the long-term viability of oasis regions, the country developed a national strategy in 2014, known as ‘Gestion durable des écosystèmes oasiens en Tunisie’ (GDEO) and launched a pilot project to implement the strategy, with support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank. Some of the main objectives of the project were to promote sustainable land management (SLM) as well as the diversification of farmer livelihoods in oases with a view to reducing rural-urban migration, increasing agricultural production and providing a higher incentive for farmers to work the land. Initial results from rehabilitation of the Tamerza oasis system indicate that the project has helped to rehabilitate nearly 600 hectares, benefitting around half of the 18,000 targeted farmers and retaining more young farmers in oasis villages. Other positive results highlighted in the studies include increased crop productivity and diversification, and the rejuvenation local farmers’ associations and overall renewed interest in saving the oasis. The studies also highlight a rise in tourism as a side benefit of a “cleaner and more attractive oasis.” Based on these positive outcomes, the Tunisian government has requested further support from the World Bank to rehabilitate the country’s entire oasis system. [GEF Press Release]

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