Improving preparedness for drought events

Droughts are among the most impactful natural hazards to both nature and humanity. Globally,  about 1.5 billion people have been directly affected by drought in this century and the associated costs are estimated to be over $100 billion. The messages in the recent IPCC reports are very clear: climate change is widespread, and is rapidly intensifying. It will increase water-related risks to nature, society and the economy, including droughts. Many regions in the world have already been hit hard by drought events in recent years. These events have resulted in degraded ecosystems, limited availability of drinking water and loss of food and energy production. Consequently, livelihoods are affected and societal risks in terms of conflicts, humanitarian aid and migration increase. To be better prepared for future drought events, water resources management should be based on systematic approach that considers future changes in water resources under in a changing climate. Drought risk management strategies should identify tangible actions to maintain water flows to ecosystems and its services to society and access to water leaving for all communities.

Developing guidelines and strategies to deal with drought risk under climate change

Deltares is supporting governments and river basin authorities to develop water security strategies. We take an integrated approach that is based on understanding climate change impacts on the hydrological processes in both river catchments and groundwater aquifers, defining solutions for optimal preparing against droughts. On behalf of the High-level Experts and Leaders Panel on Water and Disasters (HELP), Deltares has prepared, together with the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water, the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation and international experts, a report on guiding principles for drought risk management under a changing climate.

Within the Netherlands Delta Program, Deltares is exploring climate-adaptive strategies to minimize the impact of droughts under a changing climate. Within the KLIMAP project, together with stakeholders and research partners we are testing innovative solutions, including nature-based solutions in a living lab environment. 

Finding technical solutions to protect fresh water supply in coastal zones

Growing populations, in combination with longer periods of drought due to climate change, pose a challenge to drinking water companies to ensure sufficient production of drinking water in the future. The subsurface offers opportunities to narrow this gap between supply and demand of water, and to counteract the undesirable consequences of water abstraction. Deltares is investigating methods to use subsurface to store water and save it for later. Desalination of brackish groundwater can also be used as a supplementary water source. With the partners of the COASTAR project, we develop, test and demonstrate effective measures in the subsurface to safeguard the fresh water supply in coastal zones. The COASTAR measures are adopted by the Netherlands Delta Program and are currently being implemented in pilot projects. Deltares is developing solutions for drought and salinization risks in deltas all over the world, for example in the Mekong Delta and Bangladesh as part of the national strategies to secure a fresh water supply for drinking water and agriculture in coastal zones.

Operational Drought Platform for the Netherlands

Droughts and groundwater deficits have major consequences for the agricultural sector. In 2021, Deltares developed an operational system for drought predictions for groundwater (Delft-FEWS system) and a viewer to share this information with users. This framework has been developed, tested and demonstrated for drought risk predictions for agriculture. We implemented new data-science techniques in the operational system within the Grow-with-the-Flow project. As the framework is tailored to the needs of the users, it will support water managers and water users to make better trade-offs between potentially conflicting water needs. 

'New perspective on droughts in a time of climate change. 'Let’s now bring those principles to the outside world' 

Henk Ovink, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management 

Realizing impact

In partnerships like HELP, KLIMAP, COASTAR and the Grow-with-the-Flow project, Deltares cooperates with stakeholders to find solutions for longer and more severe droughts. Together we combine the understanding of the (ground)water system with technical solutions and water management strategies to ensure a sustainable use of water supplies. Such systematic approaches help us to be better prepared for future drought events and reduce the damages. 

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