Population Boom drives drought crisis – Dried Up Futures

17 June 2024, immediate use

From drought to desertification, new report lays out evidence on interconnected environmental crises.

[Read the report here]

The group, which is a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), has today published a new report: Dried Up Futures: How population growth is driving drought, land degradation, and desertification, which joins the dots on scientific evidence and points out the obvious – population growth drives drought.

It illustrates that the regions with the highest rates of population growth will have the highest risk of drought.  

By 2050, 129 countries will be at high risk of drought, with 23 countries due to population growth and 38 countries due to climate change and population growth. [1]

Drought is one of the most expensive natural disasters. In the past 50 years, drought-related hazards led to economic losses of over 70 billion USD in Africa. [2]

In Ethiopia, rates of child marriage rose by 119% in 2022 in areas worst impacted by drought. [3] Child marriages violate girls’ rights, placing them at higher risk of violence and exploitation. Child marriages also cause high fertility rates and population growth in low and middle-income countries.

Dried Up Futures outlines the key solution to end drought – close reproductive healthcare funding gaps and put women in charge of their own fertility. By doing this we can ensure women are no longer the victims of drought, but on the frontlines of drought prevention and resilience.

Curbing future population growth is one of the most effective ways to combat drought and prevent the world from heading into a water-scarce future.

Madeleine Hewitt, Population Matters’ Campaigns and Media Officer, says:

Droughts claim more lives and cause more catastrophic effects than any other environmental hazard. From food shortages to conflict and displacement, the effects of drought last years and affect millions. The World Bank and the International Drought Resilience Alliance both cite continued population growth as a driver of drought, yet policymakers remain reluctant to address the population elephant in the room. When all they need to do is talk to the women on the front lines of these crises and put them in charge of their own fertility and futures.

Closing SRHR funding gaps and ensuring every woman is provided with access to safe, modern contraception, long-term reduces population pressure on scarce water supplies, and ensures women can avoid getting pregnant during times of drought, instead dedicating their time to be on the frontlines of drought prevention.”

Dried Up Futures also examines population growth as a driver of desertification, increasingly rendering areas of the world hyper-arid wastelands, affecting 3.2 billion people worldwide. [4]

Globally, desertification costs US$64 billion per annum, or 5% of global agricultural GDP. [5]

Dryland populations are projected to increase twice as rapidly as non-dryland areas, reaching 4 billion by 2050. [6] This rapid population growth is due to shortfalls in reproductive healthcare and development funding. In dryland areas of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, 41% and 12% of the total populations respectively live in extreme poverty, [7] a result of high population growth causing resource scarcity and preventing communities from breaking out of the poverty trap.

Madeleine Hewitt, Population Matters’ Campaigns and Media Officer, says:

“Population growth is the biggest driver of expanding and intensifying agriculture, the sector caught in the catch-22 of being the biggest driver of desertification and most vulnerable to its effects. We can’t wait for a miracle breakthrough to feed the world without harming the environment, as desertification and other forms of land degradation have followed agriculture since Neolithic times. Back then, smaller global populations kept land degradation in check with time for land to be left fallow and recover, but since the global population boom, our rising demand continues to outstrip supply.  

To feed the world sustainably, we must reign in our species’ appetite, and adjust the appetites of those who take more than their fair share. We must end overconsumption of resources in the Global North, distribute resources more equitably to eliminate food insecurity, and curb rising demand by acting now to bend the curve of population growth.”

The organisation joins calls by the International Drought Resilience Alliance for governments to incorporate choice-based family planning programs to curb future population growth into their strategies to mitigate the risk of future droughts and desertification.

The fully referenced report is available here.


Madeleine Hewitt, Campaigns and Media Officer, Population Matters

E: madeleine.hewitt@populationmatters.org

T: +44 (0)20 4552 5199


[1] Drought in numbers, 2022 (2022) UNCCD. Available at: https://www.unccd.int/sites/default/files/2022-05/Drought%20in%20Numbers.pdf 

[2] Global Drought Snapshot 2023 (2023) United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Available at: https://www.unccd.int/sites/default/files/2023-12/Global drought snapshot 2023.pdf

[3] Global girlhood report 2023: Girls at the centre of the storm – her planet, her future, her solutions, Save the Children’s Resource Centre. Available at: https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/document/global-girlhood-report-2023-girls-at-the-centre-of-the-storm/

[4] Assessment report on land degradation and restoration, IPBES (2018). Available at: https://www.ipbes.net/assessment-reports/ldr

[5] Water in Drylands (2016) IUCN. Available at: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2016-042.pdf

[6] Climate change and land (2019) IPCC. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/11/SRCCL-Full-Report-Compiled-191128.pdf

[7] Climate change and land (2019) IPCC. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/11/SRCCL-Full-Report-Compiled-191128.pdf


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