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Drought indicators revisited: the need for a wider consideration of environment and society

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Drought indicators are proliferating, but with little consideration of which are most meaningful for describing drought impacts. A number of recent reviews compare different drought indicators, but none assess which indicators are actually used in the many operational drought monitoring and early warning efforts, why they were selected, or whether they have been ‘ground‐truthed,’ i.e., compared with information representing local drought conditions and/or impacts. Also lacking is a comprehensive assessment of the state of monitoring drought impacts. To help fill this gap, we combine a review of drought indicators and impacts with a survey of 33 providers of operational drought monitoring and early warning systems from global to regional scales. Despite considerable variety in the indicators used operationally, certain patterns emerge. Both the literature review and the survey reveal that impact monitoring does exist but has rarely been systematized. Efforts to test drought indicators have mostly focused on agricultural drought. Our review points to a current trend towards the design and use of composite indicators, but with limited evaluation of the links between indicators and drought impacts. Overall, we find that much progress has been made both in research and practice on drought indicators, but monitoring and early warning systems are not yet strongly linked with the assessment of wider impacts on the environment and society. To understand drought impacts fully requires a better framing of drought as a coupled dynamic between the environment and society. WIREs Water 2016, 3:516–536. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1154 This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Science of Water > Methods Science of Water > Water Extremes
Survey replies on the use of individual indicators in the drought early warning systems for different types of drought and impact data collection.
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Survey replies on evaluating the selected drought indicators with drought impacts. Participants could tick both qualitative and quantitative evaluation, and several categories regarding the reasons for no evaluation.
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Survey replies on the reasons for initiating the drought early warning system (several ticks possible). The category ‘Request by the government’ represents ‘Request by the government/governmental agencies/local authorities’ in the original survey.
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Survey replies on the importance of reasons for selecting the currently used individual indicators. Participants were asked to rate all reasons that apply. The dots represent the mean importance score, the bars range from the minimum to the maximum; n = number of replies per category.
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Science of Water > Methods
Science of Water > Water Extremes
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