Photograph by Bradley E. Clift

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This Honduran “desert” was pasture and farmland before Hurricane Mitch arrived in November 1998.

Photograph by Bradley E. Clift

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Climate Change, Droughts, and Floods

Too Much or Too Little of a Good Thing

As the planet experiences global warming, climate changes will express themselves most obviously through water—with scientists predicting increased periods of drought and flooding, melting glaciers, and changing rain and snowfall patterns.

We are already seeing large-scale changes in places such as the Andes and the Himalaya, where glaciers are disappearing, taking with them the source of drinking and irrigation water for thousands of people. Floods, droughts, storms, and other climate-related natural disasters forced 20 million people from their homes in 2008.

The Lake That Slowly Vanished

That same year, India faced the dislocation of some three million people when the Kosi River breached a dam and roared out of the Himalaya, causing the worst flooding of that river in 50 years. Then, ten months later, India witnessed its driest June in 80 years with millions of farmers unable to plant their crops, illustrating the increased unpredictability and extreme nature of severe weather and climate-related events in an era of global warming.

The solution? Some experts point to better planning and water resource use, sometimes in the form of building dams and flood control structures, while others tackle the less tangible issue of greenhouse gas emissions.

Fast Facts

  • Australia remains locked in a decade-long drought deemed the worst in the country’s 117 years of recordkeeping.
  • In 2009, famine stalked millions in the Horn of Africa, as failed rains led to the worst food crisis in Ethiopia and Kenya in a quarter century.
  • In November 2007, Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue stood outside the State Capitol and led a prayer for rain, beseeching the heavens to turn a spigot on for his parched state.