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A drought is an extended period of time, usually months or years, during which levels of precipitation experienced in a particular region are significantly below the climatic norm. Several disciplinary perspectives can be used to categorize drought. However, the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has distinguished meteorological, agricultural and hydrological drought as follows:

Drought Chart

Meteorological Drought is usually defined based on the degree of dryness (in comparison to some “normal” or average) and the duration of the dry period. Drought onset generally occurs with a meteorological drought.

Agricultural Drought links various characteristics of meteorological (or hydrological) drought to agricultural impacts, focusing on precipitation shortages, soil water deficits, reduced ground water or reservoir levels needed for crop irrigation.

Hydrological Drought usually occurs following periods of extended precipitation shortfalls that impact surface and/or sub-surface water supplies (i.e. streamflow, reservoir and lake levels, ground water), potentially resulting in significant societal impacts. Due to the fact that regions are interconnected by hydrologic systems, the impact of meteorological drought may extend well beyond the borders of the precipitation deficient area.

Drought in Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago has been victim to this naturally occurring phenomenon in the past. Most recently the country experienced severe drought in the last three months of 2009 extending into the first quarter of 2010. Here rainfall was about 25% of what was expected given historical averages. This drought episode was also accompanied by severe forest fires, incidences of crop failure and flash flooding during some spells of post-drought rainfall. In Trinidad and Tobago drought conditions were also recently evident in 1997-1998 and from 2002-2004.

Vulnerability to Drought and Mitigation Measures

Drought can bring with it a range of negative economic (e.g. agricultural sector collapse), social (e.g. famine, disease outbreak) and environmental (e.g. soil degradation/erosion, habitat loss due to forest fires) impacts. In addition, as is often seen, the people most vulnerable to drought are those that come from marginalized groups/communities in society e.g. the poor and the elderly. Also severely impacted can be those persons that engage in agriculture based livelihoods.

Drought, however, is a disaster whose impacts can be mitigated. On a national scale, governments can be pro-active by creating food and water supply reserves for use should drought occur – especially in regions prone to this disaster. During drought steps can also be taken to ration and conserve available water supplies. On a more individual level, adapting lifestyles to more fully integrate water conservation practices into daily routines can also be imperative in easing effects of drought. General water conservation techniques can be found on Trinidad and Tobago’s Water and Sewerage Authority (WASA) website.

Further Reading

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