“We supply food to other parts of the world,” he says, noting that this allows many countries in arid areas such as Africa and the Mideast to use more fresh water for other civic needs. “This includes drinking water, so if food becomes more expensive and shorter in supply, water stress in those areas becomes more aggressive.”
“The governments must take more water for agriculture and less for civic needs. That is the global effect of drought in the US,” he says.
While many are quick to link this current drought system to long-term climate change, scientists at the heart of drought research suggest it is, at minimum, a wake-up call.
Drought is a part of the planet’s natural history, he says, pointing to tree rings that document devastating droughts in prehistoric times that displaced entire populations. Droughts will always be with us, he notes.
High-profile events such as the drought now covering more than 1,000 US counties highlight the need for better monitoring, preparedness, and mitigation, says Chad McNutt, of the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) in Boulder, Colo.