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UN drought report says serious action needed to avoid bleak future

A 29% rise in the number and duration of droughts since the year 2000 has brought the world to “a crossroads.”

So says a report by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), which calls for urgent action, “using every tool we can.”

From 1970 to 2019, droughts took the largest human toll of all natural disasters — about 650,000 deaths — despite representing only 15% of such events.

In 2022, more than 2.3 billion people face water stress, and almost 160 million children endure the consequences of severe and prolonged droughts.

“We would like to stimulate a global conversation on drought so people no longer see it as a very remote, distant and irrelevant phenomenon, but something that affects all of us,” said UNCCD communications director Xenya Scanlon.

UNCCD, the sole legally binding framework for addressing desertification and drought among signatory countries, released the report as part of its 15th Conference of Parties, held May 9-20 in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.

Unless countries unite behind substantial changes in policies, land management and diet, the authors predict drought will displace hundreds of millions in coming decades and affect more than three-quarters of the world's population by mid-century.

"Numbers are not always enough to tell a story, and individuals do have a role to play in addressing this issue," said Scanlon.

The report says 128 countries have signed on to achieve or exceed land degradation neutrality, and nearly 70 have agreed to adopt more proactive, less reactive, approaches.

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.