UNL lecture brings awareness to droughts

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Story and photo by Sarah Miller

Droughts are like the Rodney Dangerfield of natural disasters. They get no respect.

Donald A. Wilhite, director of the School of Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says governments need to create drought prevention plans instead of dealing with them when effects are most severe.

While the impact of some events is more visible and happens quickly, droughts are considered “creeping phenomena” and are typically dealt with too late, according to Wilhite during a lecture about drought prevention on Tuesday, Oct. 25.

“Largely, society has really done very little to prepare for droughts, even though we know they’re a normal part of climate.”

Recent events, like the drought in Texas, have made the effects of long-term drought more apparent.

In early September, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor scale, 81 percent of Texas had been affected by “exceptional drought,” the driest category.

Average global temperatures are rising, which means an increase in natural disasters, but combine that with an increase of almost nine billion people a year and water will become a scarce resource, according to Wilhite.

“We’re going to have to become much more efficient in our water management resources.”

Wilhite, however, has been helping governments in the United States and overseas form drought prevention plans and bring awareness to the issue.

In Nebraska, for example, he helped create the first two drought plans. He also founded the National Drought Mitigation Center and the International Drought Information Center. Both organizations work to increase awareness about the impacts of drought and create prevention plans.

While change isn’t happening as fast as Wilhite would like, he has seen progress since he began working on this issue.

In 1981, only three states had drought plans, and that number has increased to 47 states today.

“It’s a long process, but I’ve learned to be pretty patient in this endeavor.”

Matt Hedrick, a freshman general studies major at UNL, thought Wilhite’s lecture was informative and eye-opening.

“Droughts are becoming more frequent and there’s just more severe weather more frequently,” Hedrick said. “I’ll probably start recognizing it more.”

Srikanth Kondabolu, a graduate student studying natural resources at UNL, said he had been reading articles written by Wilhite before he attended the presentation and is particularly interested in how governments can improve the way they handle natural disasters.

“It’s striking how much there is to drought than what actually meets the eye.”