EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Towards probabilistic impact-based drought risk analysis – a case study on the Volta Basin

Marthe Wens1, Raed Hamed1, Hans de Moel1, Marco Massabo2, and Anna Mapelli2
Marthe Wens et al.
  • 1Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Institute for Environmental Studies, Water and Climate Risk, Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • 2CIMA Research Foundation, Savona, Italy

Understanding the relationships between different drought drivers and observed drought impact can provide important information for early warning systems and drought management planning. Moreover, this relationship can help inform the definition and delineation of drought events. However, currently, drought hazards are often characterized based on their frequency of occurring, rather than based on the impacts they cause. A more data-driven depiction of “impactful drought events”- whereby droughts are defined by the hydrometeorological conditions that, in the past, have led to observable impacts-, has the potential to be more meaningful for drought risk assessments.

In our research, we apply a data-mining method based on association rules, namely fast and frugal decision trees, to link different drought hazard indices to agricultural impacts. This machine learning technique is able to select the most relevant drought hazard drivers (among both hydrological and meteorological indices) and their thresholds associated with “impactful drought events”. The technique can be used to assess the likelihood of occurrence of several impact severities, hence it supports the creation of a loss exceedance curve and estimates of average annual loss. An additional advantage is that such data-driven relations in essence reflect varying local drought vulnerabilities which are difficult to quantify in data-scarce regions.

This contribution exemplifies the use of fast and frugal decision trees to estimate (agricultural) drought risk in the Volta basin and its riparian countries. We find that some agriculture-dependent regions in Ghana, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire face annual average drought-induced maize production losses up to 3M USD, while per hectare, losses can mount to on average 50 USD/ha per year in Burkina Faso. In general, there is a clear north-south gradient in the drought risk, which we find augmented under projected climate conditions. Climate change is estimated to worsen the drought impacts in the Volta Basin, with 11 regions facing increases in annual average losses of more than 50%.

We show that the proposed multi-variate, impact-based, non-parametric, machine learning approach can improve the evaluation of droughts, as this approach directly leverages observed drought impact information to demarcate impactful drought events. We evidence that the proposed technique can support quantitative drought risk assessments which can be used for geographic comparison of disaster losses at a sub-national scale.

How to cite: Wens, M., Hamed, R., de Moel, H., Massabo, M., and Mapelli, A.: Towards probabilistic impact-based drought risk analysis – a case study on the Volta Basin, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-8944,, 2023.