PUBLISHED: 25 August 2023

Impacts of Drought

Drought can have a wide range of impacts on the environment, the economy and on society. Drought becomes most obvious to us when we feel its impacts and consequences, such as municipal or irrigation watering restrictions or higher food prices. However, drought can have many impacts that are not as noticeable – for example, it may result in changes in water quality, such as increased water temperature and reduced dissolved oxygen, which can affect aquatic organisms. 

The impacts of drought can be direct or indirect. Direct impacts are usually environmental changes that can be directly attributed to drought (e.g. insufficient soil moisture for crops to thrive). Indirect impacts are the consequences of direct impacts (e.g. increased food prices because crop yields are lower than normal).

The impacts of drought are related to how severe the drought is, how long it lasts and the pre-drought socio-economic vulnerability of the people and society being affected. If a drought is fairly mild, it may go unnoticed by the majority of people, even though the drought may have negative environmental and economic impacts. A “mega-drought”, on the other hand, may have profound and long-lasting effects on the economy and society that is being affected.

Some drought impacts may be easily quantified, such as the decrease in water levels in reservoirs or lakes. Other impacts, such as the effect of drought on the stress levels of farmers, may be more difficult to quantify.

Generally, the effects of drought are negative. There are a few exceptions, though. For example, a long drought may result in increased awareness of water issues and more efficient use of water over the long term.