EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

A spatially explicit assessment of drought risk for irrigated and rainfed agricultural systems at the global scale

Isabel Meza1, Stefan Siebert2, Petra Döll3,6, Jürgen Kusche4, Claudia Herbert3, Ehsan Eyshi Rezaei2, Hamideh Nouri2, Helena Gerdener4, Eklavyya Popat3, Janna Frischen1, Gustavo Naumann5, Jürgen V. Vogt5, Yvonne Walz1, Zita Sebesvari1, and Michael Hagenlocher1
Isabel Meza et al.
  • 1United Nations University, Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Environmental Vulnerability & Ecosystem Services Section (EVES), Germany (
  • 2Department of Crop Sciences, University of Göttingen, Von-Siebold-Strasse 8, 37075 Göttingen, Germany
  • 3Institute of Physical Geography, Goethe University Frankfurt, Altenhöferallee 1, 60438 Frankfurt am Main, Germany
  • 4Institute of Geodesy and Geoinformation (IGG), University of Bonn, Nussallee 17, 53115 Bonn, Germany
  • 5European Commission (EC), Joint Research Centre (JRC), Via Enrico Fermi 2749, 21027 Ispra, VA, Italy
  • 6Senckenberg Leibniz Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre Frankfurt (SBiK-F), Senckenberganlage 25, 60325 Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Drought is a recurrent global phenomenon considered one of the most complex hazards with manifold impacts on communities, ecosystems, and economies. While many sectors are affected by drought, agriculture’s high dependency on water makes it particularly susceptible to droughts, threatening the livelihoods of many, and hampering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Identifying pathways towards more drought resilient societies by analyzing the drivers and spatial patterns of drought risk is of increasing importance for the identification, prioritization and planning of risk reduction, risk transfer and adaptation options. While major progress has been made regarding the mapping, prediction and monitoring of drought events at different spatial scales (local to global), comprehensive drought risk assessments that consider the complex interaction of drought hazards, exposure and vulnerability factors are still the exception.

Here, we present, for the first time, a global-scale drought risk assessment at national level for both irrigated and rain-fed agricultural systems. The analysis integrates (1) composite drought hazard indicators based on historical climate conditions (1980-2016), (2) exposure data represented by the harvest area of irrigated and rainfed systems, and (3) an expert-weighted set of social-ecological vulnerability indicators. The latter were identified through a systematic review of literature (n = 105 peer-reviewed articles) and expert consultations (n = 78 experts). This study attempted to characterize the average drought risk for the whole study period.

Results show that drought risk of rain-fed and irrigated agricultural systems display different heterogeneous patterns at the global level with higher risk for southeastern Europe, as well as northern and southern Africa. The vulnerability to drought highlights the relevance to increase the countries’ coping capacity in order to reduce their overall drought risk. For instance, the United States, which despite being highly exposed to drought hazard, has low socio-ecological susceptibility and sufficiently high coping capacities to reduce the overall drought risk considerably. When comparing irrigated and rain-fed drought hazard/exposure, there are significant regional differences. For example, the northern part  of Central Africa and South America have low hazard/exposure levels of irrigated crops, resulting in a low total risk, although high vulnerability characterize these regions. South Africa, however, has a high amount of rain-fed crops exposed to drought, but a lower vulnerability compared to other African countries. Further, the drivers of drought risk vary substantially across and within countries, calling for spatially targeted risk reduction and adaptation options.

Findings from this study underline the relevance of analyzing drought risk from a holistic and integrated perspective that brings together data from different sources and disciplines and based on a spatially explicit approach. Being based on open-source data, the approach allows for reproduction in varying regions and for different spatial scales, and can serve as a blueprint for future drought risk assessments for other affected sectors, such as water supply, tourism, or energy. By providing information on the underlying drivers and patterns of drought risk, this approach supports the identification of priority regions and provides entry points for targeted drought risk reduction and adaptation options to move towards resilient agricultural systems.

How to cite: Meza, I., Siebert, S., Döll, P., Kusche, J., Herbert, C., Eyshi Rezaei, E., Nouri, H., Gerdener, H., Popat, E., Frischen, J., Naumann, G., Vogt, J. V., Walz, Y., Sebesvari, Z., and Hagenlocher, M.: A spatially explicit assessment of drought risk for irrigated and rainfed agricultural systems at the global scale, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-19544,, 2020.


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