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Archis Ambulkar is an internationally renowned environmental expert with significant contributions to the water sector. He is the author of the book “Guidance for Professional Development in Drinking Water and Wastewater Industry”, published by the International Water Association. He has made key contributions towards Oxford University’s Research Encyclopedia and Britannica Encyclopedia sections. Mayur Sharma recently interacted with him about the challenges in drought-affected regions which are making the headlines everywhere…

Q. First, tell us about your background and involvement in the water sector.
Archis: As an environmental professional, I have worked extensively on a wide range of water-related topics. During my research and consulting experience, I contributed to various municipal and industrial water and wastewater infrastructure projects involving planning, technology evaluations, studies, reports, designing, bidding, and commissioning aspects. I worked on many conventional, innovative and green technologies. To date, I have authored many expert columns, case studies, research papers, technical standards, manuals, articles and other important publications in the water, wastewater and waste management areas. On the international level, I have served on the editorial boards of scientific journals, as a reviewer for Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change reports and involved as an expert member with UN programs like World Ocean Assessment and Global Soil Partnership.

Q. What are droughts and how they are commonly categorized?
Archis: Drought is one of the grave natural calamities observed globally to varying extents. It is typically associated with a lack of precipitation and can occur in different climates. Common types described by scientific communities include meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socioeconomic droughts. Meteorological droughts are experienced due to the shortage of rainfall in the region whereas hydrological droughts happen when lack of rainfall for extended time period depletes surface and ground water-bodies. Agricultural droughts occur when available water supplies cannot meet crops or livestock needs. With the depletion of water sources, the community may be forced to reduce their usage for drinking water, food or energy commodities. This situation results in socio-economic drought. As evident, these drought types are interrelated.

Q. How are the droughts impacting the global communities?
Archis: The concept of drought is not new. Droughts are detrimental to the ecosystem, agriculture, livelihoods, water supply, and health. They create water and food security issues for communities. Draughts affect economies, shrink drinking water supplies, increase food prices and possibilities of wildfires, and impact waterways transportation. Also, to cope up with this severity, mass migrations take place with the displacement of population from drought-hit areas. Societies across the globe are experiencing this natural calamity to varying extents. Amongst different regions, developing nations are recognized to be more vulnerable to droughts. Scientific data published by international institutions indicate that many countries from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East have been impacted. Also, published reports suggest that specific regions in Australia, Brazil, Spain, and the USA have experienced droughts in recent times.

Q. Can you elaborate on climate change impacts as well?
Archis: Climate and weather are two related aspects. While weather refers to atmospheric conditions on shorter duration, climate indicates weather behavior over longer periods. Climate changes can affect weather patterns. The impacts of global warming and climate change on atmospheric conditions are debatable amongst scientists and researchers. However, several studies are inclining towards the effects like increased ambient temperatures, dry air conditions, changing rainfall patterns and evapotranspiration rates, severe and frequent droughts along with the acceleration of desertification process in certain regions. Overall, climate changes have apparently increased the likelihood of intensifying droughts.

Q. What are the different water resource management approaches?
Archis: Realizing the multidimensional impacts of climate change and droughts, communities are required to develop effective water resource management approaches. Such provisions can vary widely with specific countries and regions. Activities like monitoring surface and groundwater water-bodies, developing and regulating water supply systems, preparing emergency programs, promoting water recycling and reuse, land management as well as allocating funds for dealing with the drought conditions can go a long way with effective water management.

Q. How can the strategic planning alleviate drought challenges?
Archis: Predicting drought frequency and severity is difficult. Countries with sufficient knowledge and past experiences with droughts can make better preparations. However, many nations still lack the mechanism to monitor droughts and manage water resources. In such cases, strategic planning for drought preparations becomes a challenging task. Planning involves both short and long-term action goals to mitigate the effects of this natural disaster. These plans shall pursue proactive approaches to prepare for anticipated drought conditions. The planning process may consider an assessment of available resources, evaluation of droughts vulnerability, implementation of frameworks to reduce impacts, provisions to meet water supply requirements and monitoring of water resources. Well laid plans can achieve effective implementation.

Q. How can the governments, institutions, and public contribute?
Archis: The federal, state and local governments shall work together and offer various services and programs to help communities, farmers, and businesses for coping up with the drought conditions and scarcity of water resources. Specific assistance shall focus on drought relief and recovery process. Services involving water contingency measures, resource management, conservation programs, fire prevention, financial support, loans, waivers, farm allowances, and community well-being programs are important in this direction. Institutions shall get general public, stakeholders and professionals actively engaged in the drought recovery process. Public education, participation, and involvements can help to implement drought response provisions at grass-root levels effectively.

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