A geography of drought indices: mismatch between indicators of drought and its impacts on water and food securities

Sarra Kchouk*, Lieke A. Melsen, David W. Walker, Pieter R. Van Oel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Drought monitoring and early warning systems (DEWSs) are seen as helpful tools to tackle drought at an early stage and reduce the possibility of harm or loss. They usually include indices attributed to meteorological, agricultural and/or hydrological drought: physically based drought drivers. These indices are used to determine the onset, end and severity of a drought event. Drought impacts, like water and food securities, are less monitored or even not included in DEWSs. Therefore, the likelihood of experiencing these impacts is often simply linearly linked to drivers of drought. The aim of this study is to evaluate the validity of the assumed direct linkage between drivers of drought and water and food insecurity impacts of drought. We reviewed scientific literature on both drivers and impacts of drought. We conducted a bibliometric analysis based on 5000+ scientific studies in which selected drought indices (drivers) and drought-related water and food insecurities (impacts) were mentioned in relation to a geographic area. Our review shows that there is a tendency in scientific literature to focus on drivers of drought, with the preferred use of meteorological and remotely sensed drought indices. Studies reporting drought impacts are more localised, with relatively many studies focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and Australasia for impacts with regard to food security and water security, respectively. Our review further suggests that studies of food and water insecurity impacts related to drought are dependent on both the physical and human processes occurring in the geographic area, i.e. the local context. With the aim of increasing the relevance and utility of the information provided by DEWSs, we argue in favour of additional consideration of drought impact indices oriented towards sustainable development and human welfare.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)323-344
Number of pages22
JournalNatural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 7 Feb 2022


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