• Written by Winona Azure
    6 July 2012

If we consider that all the rain that fell on the land could be harvested, there would be fewer water and food security problems as water demand could be met – the fact is that much of this rain falls in short periods of time with high intensity, and that a large part of it runs off the land, while that which is collected is not collected nor stored efficiently.

– Resilient WASH systems in drought prone areas, CARE Nederland

Drought conditions. Photo: CARE Nederland

When I think of drought regions around the world, it seems simple: places where a lack of water or reduced water is found (or not found) at various water resource points. Thinking that drought primarily happened in desert-prone areas, I figured a study on drought would be mainly for those regions. It turns out I was wrong! With climate change effects on the rise, drought actually impacts many regions as well as economies, gender, food security, and so much more. For the past few months at Akvo, we have been integrating the 113 page “Desk study: Resilient WASH systems in drought prone areas,” by CARE Nederland (on drought and making water systems more drought resilient) into Akvo’s online encyclopedia for everything WASH-related.

You can see the results here: Resilient WASH systems in drought-prone areas.

Drought does mean less water availability, but this can cause a myriad of other problems. For instance, without a consistent water supply, crops can fail, which leads to not only food insecurity, but it intensifies poverty. Women and children will be more impacted by drought than men because they generally tend to agricultural activities and will need to travel further to get to water in the case of a drought. Ethnic tensions can escalate into wars over water resources, and hydropower can be cut dramatically, leading to greater and greater economic losses.

Drought can even affect the making of cement – which is now used in the construction of almost all structures. So if a community has weak infrastructure, failing crops, stressed and depleted caretakers (women), and economic and civil instability, how is that community supposed to survive at all? I realised more and more how integrating the drought study into Akvopedia was crucial, not only for arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), but also in areas experiencing even temporary drought, as these were the least likely to be prepared. With so many elements being affected by drought, efficiency and water technology appropriateness (for a specific geography and climate of a region) became emphasised the most throughout the CARE study.

Most of the document presented each water technology, from siting to construction, and illustrated how to make it more efficient and harmonious with the realities and patterns of drought. For instance, if a community’s primary water source is through riverbed infiltration galleries, and the drought makes the river dry up, then reliance on the shorter (and often more intense) rainfall events must be maximised. Two smart solutions to address this are: increase the porosity of your infiltration system (to reduce rainfall runoff) and create a greater catchment area or dam system to accommodate more erratic, “all at once” rainfall events.

Contour trenches used to slow water moving down a hill so that absorption into the aquifer and increased soil moisture for crops is possible. Photo: Unknown.

Contrary to old practices of physically capturing and storing every bit of rain possible, sometimes allowing rain to loosely recharge an aquifer has many more advantages. Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) (PDF download) is a technique of managing drought that is gaining in popularity, primarily because keeping the groundwater recharged supports water (and food) security better. MAR tends to address more factors affected by drought, such as keeping soil moisture (crucial to crop success) and preventing evaporation (since aquifers have natural “lids” of earth/rock/soil on them). Plus, aquifers cover a lot of geographical area, which reduces the time people need to travel to access water, if for example, they can drill or dig a well where they are at, and have local access.

The CARE study really helped us rethink Akvopedia as well. It encouraged us to expand and recategorise our water technologies and helped make the information we already had stronger and more complete. Next up, Akvo will integrate a new study about how floods affect water resources and how to mitigate those influences, also by CARE, in the near future. In addition, there has been a request to integrate a new study on water quality solutions. If you have a study to contribute, we’d love to integrate it! Please contact Mark Tiele Westra at: m.t.westra@akvo.org.

The main drought page where you will find all of the links and pages concerned with the CARE study: Resilient WASH systems in drought-prone areas.

Winona Azure is an Akvopedia editor for Akvo.org.