Just like any other thing we take for granted, a lack of water tends to take us by surprise when we suddenly find there is a shortage. Suddenly simple things like washing the car and getting the garden watered can be made more complicated (and woe betide those who have swimming pools or other large water features to keep filled up!).
We in the UK are blessed with more rainfall than we want and so a genuine drought isn’t something most of us will ever experience. But throughout history there have been times when fresh water has been in dangerously low supply – these are the world’s great droughts.
The American ‘Dust Bowl’
This drought came about at a time when the US was suffering from the Great Depression of the 1930s. At the time, farming in the US was undergoing modernisation, and farmers had abandoned some of the traditional practices such as crop rotation in favour of larger, more efficient fields. The phrase ‘dust bowl’ was used in reference to the sudden and frequent dust storms that would occur during this drought, pictured here:
Photo Credit: Euclid VanderKroew (http://www.flickr.com/photos/vanderkroew/3618405148/)
Despite increased crop yields, disregard for the value of traditional methods led to unstable soil that was easily eroded by the wind during the drought. From this we can see that old methods should be considered fairly alongside modern ones – nowadays farmers take the recovery time of their land much more seriously.
1980’s African Drought
This is a relatively recent example and one that made a big impression on the public consciousness of Africa. More than 20 different African nations were stricken with dangerously dry weather that deprived water from rivers and lakes. The results were terrible, with an estimated death toll of 1 million over three years. Africa became associated with images such as these in the popular imagination.
Photo Credit: DGTX (http://www.flickr.com/photos/_d/8672561214/)
This great drought brought much needed attention to the struggles taking place on the African continent. In particular it serves as a possible example of the dangers of climate change.
Famine in Asia, Brazil and Africa 1876
This is certainly one of the most widespread famines caused by drought in recorded history. The death toll is hard to estimate since so many countries were affected, but it numbers in the tens of millions. The cause of this drought is currently thought to be the El Nino Southern Oscillation, an anomalous weather pattern that generates extremes.
This drought highlights how climate systems are all connected in one huge, complicated system which may behave in unexpected ways. The plight of millions of people sparked previously unseen international relief efforts.
Doing our bit – 5 easy water saving tips
Photo Credit: American Center Mumbai (http://www.flickr.com/photos/amcentermumbai/6870244962/sizes/z/in/photostream)
1 – Water is all around you – you can collect your own if you like! The most popular and simplest method is to use a water butt, with a tap for easy access. Once you have some water collected, you can use a pump, such as those made by Lowara or Armstrong, to transmit it to the point of use.
2 – Water recycling. Grey water recycling saves water used for washing and other domestic uses, allowing you to safely use it again and vastly reduce overall water consumption.
3 – Don’t use a sprinkler system. Though highly useful for keeping lawns green, they use a great deal of water to do so. Try to only use your collected rain water and water the lawn only when necessary.
4 – Keep your plumbing in good order. Leaking taps can drip away a surprising amount of water every day!
5 – Toilet flushing uses many litres just to remove a small amount of waste. If you have the opportunity, replace old models with modern toilets with economy flush systems.
The great droughts of history show us the importance of conserving our water. Without it plants cannot grow, and ultimately people cannot survive. Take your personal water conservation seriously and you can enjoy reduced energy and water bills as well as increased peace of mind as you do your bit to reduce water waste.