What is Drought, Meaning, Definition, Effect of Drought, types of Drought

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Drought is a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall, leading to a shortage is of adequate precipitation, either rain or snow, which can result into reduced soil moisture or groundwater table, diminished stream flow, crop damage and a general water shortage. According to vulnerability profile of India released by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), 68% of the cultivable area is vulnerable to droughts in the country.

The onset and end and severity of the droughts are often difficult to determine. Further, it differs from other natural hazards as it has a slow onset, evolves over months or even years, affects a large spatial extent and cause little structural damage

Classification of Drought

Droughts are classified into meteorological droughts, hydrological droughts and agricultural droughts.

• Meteorological Drought

It occurs when there is rainfall deficiency w.rct long term average. In this, rainfall deficiency of 25% or less than is normal, 26-50% of rainfall deficiency is called moderate and a rainfall deficiency of more than 50% is called severe. Meteorological drought is the prime reason for the occurrence of drought and also leads to other kinds of droughts.

•Agricultural Drought

It is identified by four weeks of consecutive drought or when weekly rainfall goes below 50mm during Kharif season.


•Hydrological Drought

It is witnessed when there is deficiency of water in water bodies, when the requirement of water for normal and specific needs is not being met.

Causes of Drought

• Weak Monsoon The main cause for drought occurrence in India is the weak South-West monsoon system, which results into rainfall deficiency and hence drought. The weak monsoon system and condition of drought are witnessed more in the El-Nino years. El-Nino is an abnormal weather pattern caused by the warming of the Pacific ocean towards Equator.

• Climate Change The phenomenon of climate change is also likely to trigger droughts which will have huge impact mainly on agriculture,

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• Human Activities The human activities like over-irrigation, deforestation, over-exploitation of water resources, improper utilisation of water resources etc. can also create conditions conducive to occurrence drought. The farming of sugarcane in Maharashtra region has led to drought condition in that region Sugarcane requires more water than crops like pulses, which leads to over-exploitation of the available water resources.

Effects of Drought

Unlike other natural hazards, the effects of droughts are all pervasive impacting each and every dimension of human life as well as economy of the region and nation. In this section we will discuss the effects of droughts on human lives through real life examples from drought prone areas of the country.

• Agriculture

About 60% of our agriculture is still rainfed, hence the agricultural productivity of area significantly suffers on the occurrence of the droughts. Food and fodder crises become a grave concern for the people living in these areas. For instance, in the Bundelkhand area which encompasses district of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, there is huge exodus of people to urban areas due to recurrent loss of agricultural productivity.

• Economy

The aggregate output of the economy also suffers due to droughts. The Agri-allied activities such as milk production, horticulture, fishing etc. are badly impacted due to the occurrence of droughts. Economically, it results into inter and intra states inequitable distribution of wealth. For instance, the drought prone Saurashta and Vidarbha regions of Gujarat and Maharashtra lag behind in overall economic development when compared to the other parts of state.

• Environment

Wind and water erosion of soil and poor soil quality are some of the consequences of the droughts on environment. Besides drying of wetlands, reduced food and water supply may lead to the migration of animal species or even their extinction. For instance, the Great Indian Bustard in Rajasthan has become critically endangered due to loss of their habitat.

•Employment and Poverty

With the onset of droughts, famine, starvation, distress sale of livestock and property are common phenomena in drought prone areas of the country. This increases poverty besides creating large scale unemployments and distress migration in the cities. .

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Due to shortage of basic necessities such as water and food, the sectarian conflicts, tensions and criminal activities rise in drought prone areas Many of the farmer suicide reported in India were from drought prone areas of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. Similarly, Bundelkhand area is notoriously famous for dacoits. .

Regions Affected by Droughts in India

A drought prone area is defined as one in which the probability of a drought year is greater than 20%. A chronic drought prone area is one in which the probability of a drought year is greater than 40%. Most of the drought prone areas are found in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid regions of the country. Broadly, the drcught affected areas of the country can be divided into two tracts. The first tract comprising the desert and semi-arid region cover an areas of 0.6 million sq. kom. It is rectangle shaped area whose one side extends from Ahmedabad to Kanpur and other from Kanpur to Jalandhar. Most part of these region receives rainfall less than 750 mm.

second tract comprises the dry region lying in the rain shadow region of stern Ghats up to a distance of about 300 km from the coast. It also receives infall less than 750 mm Outside these two main regions, there are isolated pockets which experience frequent droughits. They are Coimbatore and Tirunelveli dist of Tamil Nadu, Saurashtra and Kutch region in Gujrat, Kalahandi region of Odisha. Bundell hand region of UP and MP and Purulia region of West Bengal

Mitigation Measures of Droughts

Various measures are adopted in the management of droughts India with equal participation of both central and state agencies. From structural measures such as rainwater harvesting, watershed developments to diversion of cropping system have been carried out in the country. In this section we will learn about different mitigation measures for droughts.

• A proper mapping and assessment of drought prone region is must for taking timely actions. In this regard government in partnership with remote sensing technology of ISRO has taken in depth analysis of soil quality, water availability etc. of different areas of India, accordingly they are graded from low to high.

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• Government has constructed many canals, dams, rainwater harvesting structures for drought proofing of those areas in order to provide irrigation facilities. Under Rastriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, there is emphasis on construction of irrigation facilities in those areas. Meanwhile, it has also taken river linking project such as Ken-Betwa river link project for Bundelkhand region in UP and MP and Kosi-Mechi link project for Seemanchal region in Bihar.

• Indian Agricultural Research Institute (ARI) along with Village resource center of ISRO has started educational and awareness programme for farmers in crop rotation and sustainable agriculture in drought prone areas. Further, the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana provides insurance in case of crop failure.

• National Institute of Disaster Management has taken capacity building programme for various officials and personnel involved in mitigation measures for drought prone areas. Apart from it, effective convergence between NGOs, Civil society, Self Help Groups and Panchayats has also been carried out for taking swift actions in case of droughts.

• To provide effective relief measures in wake of droughts, many important government schemes such as MGNREGA have seen increased allocation in those areas. Further, to create better employment opportunities in those areas, NITI aayog has launched Aspirational District Programme.

•Various state governments have also launched cloud seeding programme in the past to bring artificial rain in drought affected region. Indian Institute of Meteorological Departments also provides with short, medium and long-term forecast of Indian monsoon which helps in better preparedness.


Drought is a serious condition which can impact all the sections of the society, can bring huge economic loss for the country and can cause many disruptions in the society. Therefore, serious efforts by the government are needed to overcome and to avoid the situation of droughts. Alongwith the efforts of the government, the awareness among the people about judicial use of water needs to be increased.

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