Droughts often mean a shortage of water. This can be either an inconvenience (leading to a hosepipe ban for instance) or a disaster (leading to famine and loss of life). This GCSE Geography quiz looks at some of the causes and effects of drought and some ways in which we can conserve water.

We rely broadly on two things to survive - sunlight (so producers can start the food chain) and water (for hydrating us, plants and other animals). In general, people will be able to get water to drink in all but the most extreme circumstances, but a shortage of water can have other negative effects. Without adequate water, crops will die, or at least show lower yield, and animals may have to be slaughtered before they have grown to their full size. It may also be difficult to have adequate sanitation.

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Droughts may have natural or human causes. As well as the larger impacts from such processes as desertification, removing large numbers of trees or allowing over-grazing, humans may also cause water shortages by building dams, diverting and modifying rivers to force water to move through the drainage basin at a much faster rate. One of the effects of this is that in periods of lower rainfall there is no water stored to help plants and animals survive.

Originally, people were able to move around and low populations were better equipped people to survive periods of drought. Early farmers only had access to local crops which had adapted to be able to survive seasonal droughts. With the influx of higher yield crops that are less able to withstand periods of hot, dry weather, the risks associated with droughts have increased.

As LEDCs and emerging economies become more developed they are starting to utilise technologies and household items that require more water. This means that water may be used in the more affluent areas and the less affluent areas will be left at dangerously low levels. Problems such as an influx of locusts, internal conflicts, or sudden severe weather can be the final straw, leading to widespread famine as there are no reserves in place.

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  1. Why is drought worse in areas that are considered marginal land for farming?
    Marginal land is much more prone to desertification. Imagine it as a balancing act, with a drought being enough to tip things over the edge
  2. In the UK, droughts can reduce the water table, leading to small and seasonal rivers running dry, water having to be regulated by hosepipe bans, fish struggling due to increased concentrations of pollutants and low oxygen levels in the slow moving waterways. Which of the following is not a way that households can reduce water use?
    In areas of drought, reducing individual household water consumption can help to stop a drought becoming a more serious issue
  3. Which of these is a secondary hazard of drought?
    Drought can lead to desertification which in turn leads to surface run off and lower levels of precipitation
  4. What is a drought?
    Average precipitation is the criteria by which a drought is measured. This means that even wet countries can have a drought
  5. Do all droughts have the same effect worldwide?
    Britain has suffered from several years of drought, specifically in the South East of England. However, compared to droughts in parts of Africa, there is a huge difference in the impact. Hosepipe bans were introduced and some rivers ran dry in England. At the same time there was a greater than average rainfall in parts of the North of England, meaning there was no serious threat to human life
  6. Why does high atmospheric pressure lead to periods of drought?
    Clouds form as warm, moist air rises and cools, so in high pressure systems, where the air is descending, the moisture in the air does not condense. No clouds, no rain!
  7. Which of these areas is prone to dangerous droughts?
    Sahel, in North Africa, is one of the regular case studies on drought. As well as the seasonally wet and dry seasons, there is a real risk that the rains will fail to appear in what should be the wet season. There have been droughts on and off for around 35 years up to now
  8. How is climate change likely to affect the number of occurrences of drought?
    The predictions are that droughts and desertification will become much worse in the parts of the world that can least afford to have the conditions deteriorate, for example, the Sahel
  9. How does the UK ensure the population have a continuous supply of water?
    Some nations recycle water for drinking but the UK uses it for industrial purposes. In the UK a series of reservoirs and the use of the water table ensure that a continuous supply can be provided. After a series of droughts in the South East there were calls to provide desalination plants near London to provide fresh water, but this is a costly method. With the average rainfall remaining high across the UK there are plans to move water from the North to the South
  10. Which of the following is a primary hazard of drought?
    The lack of water will lead to the failure of crops and damage to the ecosystem

Author: Ruth M

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