Drought in 2013 could result in one of the worst U.S. disasters in history.
US Department of Agriculture
By Susan Kim*
January 15, 2013—If drought continues at the same intensity in many U.S. states, the resulting disaster could be more costly than Hurricane Katrina, said experts who have been helping drought-stricken communities plan a long-term response.
“It looks as if the drought, especially in the western heartland, will continue into 2013,” said Steve Cain, chair of the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) Drought Task Force. UMCOR has been working with the task force to develop training for people and organizations who want to help communities organize long-term drought recovery groups.
“A combined 2012-2013 drought could ultimately cost $140 billion—more than Hurricane Katrina,” said Cain. Katrina caused $108 billion in property damage, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Drought affects people in different ways than other disasters, added Cain. Farmers and families often face rising food prices, or they may have to relocate in order to simply survive. In Texas, towns such as Robert Lee simply ran out of water in 2011, and during the same year, a record 500 water systems in the state were under mandatory restrictions.
The effects of drought are cumulative, agreed Heather Klason, disaster-response coordinator for the Minnesota Annual Conference.
“If we see a continuing imbalance in crop years, then farmers and communities end up making fewer equipment purchases and they purchase fewer supplies. I don't know that we've seen the full effects yet,” she said.
In the Dakotas, very little snow has fallen this winter, and forecasters are predicting a dry spring, said Lee Gale, disaster-response coordinator for the Dakotas Annual Conference.
“Water levels, even in Devils Lake, which has been on the verge of overflowing its banks for the past several years, are dropping,” he said. “Farmers are concerned and waiting to see what is going to happen.”
Roughly 60.26 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought as of Jan. 8, according to a "Drought Monitor" report issued last week by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts.
Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 597 counties in 14 states as natural disaster areas after they suffered from severe drought for eight weeks in a row. The designation makes qualified farmers in the areas eligible for low-interest loans.
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*Susan Kim is a journalist and a regular contributor to www.umcor.org.