A teenage girl walks on dry land past a concrete well carrying a yellow water jug.

Hamda*, 16, and her mother Maryam are pastoralists in Somalia and have a herd of sheep and goats – who they depend on for their survival. They bring their animals each day to a borehole Save the Children built to provide communities in drought-prone areas with sustainable access to water. Photo Credit: Sacha Myers / Save the Children 

The Desperation of Drought: Facts, Causes and How to Help

What is a drought and what are the causes?

Droughts occur when prolonged periods of drier-than-average weather lead to shortages in water supplies  The extent of droughts can vary by region, and long periods of drought can have widespread effects on the lives of children and families around the world. 

Common Effects of Droughts

A drought can carry various implications depending on its geography. Some effects of drought include: 

  • Agricultural impacts, such as withering crops and dying livestock
  • Mass migration away from the drought-affected areas 
  • Increasing rates of malnutrition due to insufficient food
  • Education disruption in school-age children

How Climate Change Impacts Droughts

The climate crisis is a major driver of extreme weather conditions including drought. Excess heat associated with climate change will increase dry climates' susceptibility to drought conditions and the severity of their effects. 

Droughts Affect Children Around the World

Droughts threaten the lives of millions of children around with world. Today, almost 160 million children are exposed to severe and prolonged droughts. By 2040, it is estimated that one in four children will be living in areas with extreme water shortages. 

In Africa, Droughts Pose a High Risk

There are many regions in Africa that are particularly susceptible to droughts. 

The Horn of Africa, for example, has experience too little rain or no rain at all for the last 7 out of 8 rainy seasons. 

Save the Children has been working in many African countries affected by droughts, including Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya in the Horn of Africa. We have implemented resilience programs to address the long-term impacts of climate change. 

  • In Somalia, we are supporting the establishment and training of community-based disaster management committees that can develop their own plans and strategies to adapt to disasters according to their local needs and contexts. 
  • In Ethiopia, we are supporting unemployed young ‘pastoralist drop-outs’ who were forced by the circumstances to give up the cattle farmer trade. Our programs work to get them training that suits their interests and skills, and that will give them sustainable incomes in the future. 
  • In Kenya, we are supporting women-led loans and savings groups, so families can start small-scale businesses, run sustainable kitchen gardens, and raise livestock appropriate for drought conditions.

Droughts in Bolvia

A combination of intense winter heat fueled by the climate crisis and the El Niño phenomenon has created a major drought emergency across Bolivia.

On Monday, Bolivia recorded its hottest-ever September temperature of 40.3C. Temperatures are expected to reach as high as 45C in some parts of the country this week. By December, there is a “high probability” Bolivia’s iconic Lake Titicaca will be 64cm below the drought alert level, breaking a low water record set in 1998 by 33cm. 

Droughts in the United States

Droughts can occur in any region of the world, including the U.S. Today, droughts in the U.S. are concentrated in the west part of the country. States like California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona are experiencing unprecedented heat and dry weather. 

*Name changed for protection

How You Can Help Children Impacted by Droughts

Save the Children helps communities affected by extreme weather such as droughts. From families suffering severe drought in the Horn of Africa, to those suffering from more frequent wildfires or hurricanes in the U.S., your help is needed urgently today. 

Your donation today to the Children's Emergency Fund can support this important work. 


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