Opinion | Deadly droughts deliver a dilemma


Photo courtesy of Aurélie Marrier d'Unienville/IFRC/Flickr

Adelaide Maphangane stands beside an empty water hole in the district of Mabalane, Mozambique on Sept. 7, 2016. Columnist Maggie Knutte expresses the severity of droughts in, not just Illinois, but around the world.

By Maggie Knutte, Columnist

Natural disasters threaten our earth everyday, some more so than others. Hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes are all daunting, but there is one that may not immediately come to mind: droughts. While they may not seem especially dangerous, droughts are historically the number one deadliest natural disaster, killing 650,000 people across the world over the last 50 years. This number increases every year.

Droughts are formally defined as “a deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time, resulting in a water shortage” by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Water is such a vital necessity to humans. Without it, we can’t survive; this is why droughts are so deadly. 

In the United States, droughts are also the most costly disaster. Over the past 30 years, they have cost more than $250 billion in damages collectively. Illinois alone has put $10 to 20 billion toward drought relief in this period. 

One key factor that plays into why droughts are so detrimental is farming. One of the four types of drought is agricultural drought, which is characterized by the drought’s impact on food production. 

Illinois is known for its farming of corn and soybeans. UI has its very own cornfield — the Morrow Plots — dedicated to experimentation. The Morrow Plots are the oldest experimental plot field in America. 

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The Morrow Plots — like any other field — need water to grow. Droughts hinder crops from flourishing as they limit the precipitation our plants need. Not only is this hard on farmers economically, but it leads to another dangerous problem: famine. 

Droughts bring poor crop yields and this hugely affects populations. In extreme cases of agricultural drought, much of the crops that were meant to feed civilians failed to grow, resulting in famine. The worst famine in history is China’s Great Famine (1959-1961), in which drought contributed to the deaths of 30 million Chinese. 

While different states in the United States are affected more heavily — such as California — drought is present in almost every U.S. state. Only a few rainy states on the east coast are shielded from its effects. 

Outside of the United States, droughts devastate certain countries more than others. Africa, already impacted by a slew of natural disasters, has been especially vulnerable to drought. Somalia, specifically, has suffered “the greatest number of casualties (20,739) as a result of the 2010 drought.” 10 years later, Somalia is still struggling with drought. 

Developing countries like Somalia struggle economically and agriculturally to recover from drought and famine. Many people outside of Africa are not aware of its major struggle against natural disasters — including droughts, famines and floods — that have been going on for years. 

Ukraine, already struggling with the Russian Invasion, also heavily suffers from drought and famine. While fighting a war, Ukraine can barely feed its citizens and is turning up an increasingly devastating death toll.  

While we cannot stop droughts, relief action can be taken to combat them. Informing yourself about these pressing disasters is the first step to helping those suffering from the effects. The United States has many programs created to help with drought relief and recovery.  

The effects of droughts reach farther than lack of water. Everyone is impacted, in one way or another, by these events.


Maggie is a freshman in LAS.

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