Water scarcity and droughts are not just matters of concern for water managers. They have direct impacts on the citizens and economic sectors that use and depend on water, such as agriculture, tourism, industry, energy and transport. Water scarcity and droughts also have broader impacts on natural resources at large such as through biodiversity, water quality, increased risks of forest fires and soil impoverishment. But how can such a complex natural phenomena be managed?
Drought management is currently reactive, dealing mainly with losses and damages. Cooperation among key actors is missing, and formal legislation mostly does not exist. In 2013, at the High-Level Meeting on Drought Policies, the Global Water Partnership (GWP) and WMO launched a joint Integrated Drought Management Programme (IDMP). Its main mission is to move from reactive to proactive drought management, focusing on drought prevention, mitigation, vulnerability reduction, planning and preparedness. Shortly after, in February 2013, the GWP Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) office launched a regional implementation of the IDMP.
The IDMP CEE supports the Governments of Bulgaria, Czechia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Ukraine in the development of drought management policies and plans. It is structured to provide both policy advice and practical solutions in drought management, and focuses on an integrated approach rather than fragmented solutions. Over 40 organizations from the 10 countries are involved. This article highlights the main achievements of the first phase (2015–2017) of the regional implementation and shows the direction of the second phase (2017–2019).
Responding to drought
Over the past few decades, droughts have dramatically increased in number and intensity in the European Union (EU). Between 1976 and 2006, the areas and people affected increased by almost 20%. In the last 30 years, the total cost of droughts across the EU amounted to Euro 100 billion (European Commission, 2012). Water scarcity and droughts have hit the CEE region frequently, and have had large impacts on the economy and welfare of people. Despite this damage, drought is still not considered an issue of high priority, and people are not aware of the impacts.
It has become evident that CEE countries need to improve national drought monitoring and management policies with the goal of improving preparedness and reducing drought impacts. Although most CEE countries have well-developed meteorological and hydrological monitoring systems, these are not translated into concerted efforts to support decision-makers in various sectors of the national economy (such as agriculture and energy).
Danube water flow decreased by half compared to its normal level due to the 2017 drought (Galati county, Romania; source: Agrointeligenta)
Drought episodes can have local, national and regional characteristics. Several river basins (e.g. Danube, Tisza and Sava) in the CEE region have a transboundary character. However, there is currently no suitable mechanism to share information and knowledge among countries, and regional integration of drought monitoring and early warning is not at the desired level.
A transnational integrated approach is therefore needed for successful tracking of drought, comparing its impacts using a common methodology and assessing the vulnerability of various sectors to drought occurrence. Currently, all of the countries within the CEE region need to improve their responses across sectors to meteorological, agricultural and hydrological droughts.
Many people still consider drought to be a rare phenomenon in the region. In fact, it is becoming a regular feature of the climate. The year 2017 was just the latest in a series of major drought events, and significant parts of the CEE region (especially the Danube) were hit by drought, which affected different water-dependent economic sectors, vegetation and water resources. Even though drought events are becoming more frequent and intense, they still catch communities unprepared. People remain reactive in their actions, and carry out measures only when drought has already developed.
Managing drought in an integrated way
Drought management to enhance regional drought resilience and to improve capacities of target groups for integrated drought management is the central aim of IDMP CEE. In cooperation with national hydrometeorological institutions, river basin authorities, ministries and research institutions, the programme addresses the following four main components:
- Investments in regional and national development: To advance regional/transboundary cooperation in drought management by integrating water security and drought resilience into national development planning and decision-making processes.
- Demonstration projects: To develop and implement several innovative solutions for addressing critical drought management challenges. Project implementation is driven by institutions working at the local level with support and technical assistance from regional and country teams.
- Knowledge and capacity development: To organize regional and national workshops, publish policy briefs, work with social media and implement other activities focusing on increasing awareness among water managers, farmers and other water users.
- Partnerships and sustainability: To ensure that the network facilitating IDMP CEE is strengthened as well as to enhance further fundraising of programmes promoting water security and drought resilience for sustainable development.
Producing step-by-step guidance
One of the cornerstones of proactive drought management is the establishment of a drought policy and a drought management plan. This should address the whole drought management cycle (monitoring–impact assessment–response–recovery–preparedness) and help to improve decision-making processes in drought management.
During the first phase of IDMP CEE, partners conducted a review of the current status of implementation of drought management plans and measures and integration of drought issues into the first river basin management plans (RBMPs). An overview in 10 CEE countries showed that most countries had not produced a drought management plan in accordance with EU general guidelines (European Commission, 2007). Furthermore, substantial shortcomings were found in the implementation of all key elements of drought management plans, such as indicators and thresholds establishing different drought stages, measures to be taken in each drought stage and the organizational framework for drought management. In addition, drought was not identified as a significant water management issue in several RBMPs. The problem areas identified by the review were deemed a good basis for developing guidance on how to produce a plan that would be concise and tailor-made for the CEE region.
The preparation of drought management plans within the CEE is directly linked to the criteria and objectives of the EU Water Framework Directive, which states that such plans should be part of an RBMP. Moreover, all CEE countries are signatories to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD, 1994) and are thus required to prepare national action plans. But in most countries, national efforts towards fulfilling these obligations were divided: the EU Water Framework Directive was managed by the national water sector, while UNCCD was managed by the national agriculture sector.
In response, IDMP CEE sought to unite all main experts and stakeholders working on the EU Water Framework Directive and UNCCD and open communication among different sectors and institutions by organizing two (in some cases three) rounds of National Consultation Dialogues in each of the 10 participating countries. The dialogues stimulated efforts to establish the necessary organizational structures for drought management. Stakeholders also supported development of the guidelines, one of the main achievements of the first phase.
The Guidelines for Preparation of the Drought Management Plans aim to provide a better understanding of how to integrate drought management into RBMPs in CEE. They were developed specifically for EU countries. They are built on guiding principles derived from EU legislation and drought strategy as well as other water policy documents. They are also based on WMO/GWP guidelines, which provide a template for action that countries can use in the development of a national drought management policy and drought preparedness/mitigation plans.
The main obstacle in CEE in developing drought plans was identified as a lack of methodology. As the guidelines provide a detailed methodology for drought management plan development, describing basic steps in a very concise way, a lack of methodology should no longer be a problem. In addition, examples are presented for each step to increase the clarity on how any specific part of a drought management plan functions in practice.
Seven steps of how to integrate drought into planning processes for development of RBMPs
Monitoring and forecasting of drought
The first step in monitoring drought at international and regional levels is to establish communications with and among national authorities. Almost all countries in CEE have operational products used for drought monitoring. Some of the countries use many different data sources, while others rely on only one indicator.
Partners within IDMP CEE collected existing national data and any other indicators used in partner countries to identify or forecast drought, and made them available through the European Drought Observatory (EDO), operated by European Commission Joint Research Centre.
Similar to many continental and global monitoring platforms, EDO intensively uses modelling systems for drought status assessment. However, many meteorological variables, especially the amount of precipitation, are very difficult to accurately simulate using only remote-sensing and conventional measurements. Country drought products prepared from local measurements are, therefore, crucial for drought status assessment. Moreover, the integration of existing national data increases data visibility of data and enables countries to justify requests for assistance in case of major natural disasters.
The implementation guide prepared during this activity can be used in similar future projects that involve integration of existing or new data into EDO.
Reducing drought impacts, vulnerabilities and risks
The IDMP CEE coordinated several demonstration projects, focusing on various aspects of drought management and covering different sectors (water, agriculture, forestry and meteorology).
One of the most successful was a demonstration project on natural small water retention measures. Small retention is an adaptive measure that serves to adjust to extreme climate variability. Specifically, it slows down flood waves during flood periods and helps retain water in the land during wet periods. This fits perfectly in the CEE region, which is faced with increased frequency of extreme weather events – one year floods, next year drought.
Natural small water retention measures focus on increasing the buffering capacity of the landscape to mitigate extreme events. The guidelines on Natural Small Water Retention Measures, which were developed during this activity, define small retention measures and their purpose. They are intended for individuals, civil society and policymakers, and are on how to plan and construct different kinds of small water retention measures that lower flood risk and store water for dry periods.
The guidelines complement the case studies, examples of different small retention measures already in action from the CEE region. To increase knowledge of these measures in the region and beyond, an online lecture was prepared for everyone who wants to understand the concept as part of the integrated water resource management. This demonstration project continues as a larger scale project with funding from the Interreg CENTRAL EUROPE programme FramWat – a framework for improving water balance and nutrient mitigation by applying small water retention measures. There are also other demonstration projects such as upgrading agricultural drought monitoring and forecasting in the Ukraine and Republic of Moldova.
Main achievements of the first phase of IDMP CEE (2015–2017)
Developing efficient and operative drought management
IDMP CEE partners developed a new three-year workplan (2017–2019) through which they will continue to build capacity in order to change ad hoc drought responses into proactive drought management. The main expected results of the next phase are:
- Establishment of efficient and operational drought management procedures, leading to improvement of drought monitoring and a unified analysis of drought impacts and risk assessments for the whole region
- Overcoming gaps in decision-making processes in drought management, improving dialogue among scientific and policymaking communities, and increasing knowledge about EU policy instruments and relevance to implementation of drought policy
- Increased knowledge and capacities regarding operational and strategic capacity to monitor, forecast, evaluate and respond during the onset of droughts, and improved capacity to analyse data faster and with higher accuracy
- Better access to information and products, and enhanced accessibility of IDMP CEE knowledge and outputs to all stakeholders across sectors
IDMP CEE played a catalytic role in the development of the DriDanube project (Drought Risk in the Danube Region) – the programme and the project benefit from mutual synergies. The project aims at helping all stakeholders involved in drought management become more efficient during drought emergency response and prepare better for the next drought. This fits well into the IDMP CEE overall goal.
The changes required with IDMP in the CEE region are to move from recovery to protection, from crisis management to risk management, from reactive to proactive actions. Practical tools are being developed to help everybody to be better prepared for future drought events.
Acknowledgements: All colleagues and experts who contributed to the IDMP CEE programme are acknowledged. Special thanks to Danka Thalmeinerova and Tomasz Okruszko, who made major contributions to preparing and initiating the programme, and to the peer review group: Janusz Kindler, Henny Van Lanen, Bob Stefanski and colleagues of GWP/WMO IDMP.
European Commission, 2007: Drought Management Plan Report, Including Agricultural, Drought Indicators and Climate Change Aspects, Water Scarcity and Droughts Expert Network, Technical Report 2008-023, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/quantity/pdf/dmp_report.pdf.
European Commission, 2012: Water Scarcity & Droughts – 2012 Policy Review – Building Blocks, http://ec.europa.eu/environment/water/quantity/pdf/non-paper.pdf.