Drought, Conservation, and Our Children

Droughts threaten the lives of children around the world. According to Save the Children: “By 2040, it is estimated that one in four children will be living in areas with extreme water shortages.”

While droughts have been happening across the globe for centuries, the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history occurred in the summer of 1934, when 80% of the country was in a drought, and 250,000 Americans had to relocate. The Dustbowl era became an indelible chapter in the American narrative.

A recent study published in Nature Climate Change released dismal stats in the US now. It used the term “megadrought,” defined as a “severe dry period persisting for several decades or longer.” 

The authors stated that the impact on our southwestern states had reached the driest conditions in the past 20 years, stretching back for 1,200 years. Unsurprisingly, the scientists underscored that human activity had made the adverse effects of the drought 72% worse. Higher temperatures caused by greenhouse gas emissions have removed elevated water levels out of the soil, forests, and crops. 

Drought is the precursor to wildfires. It has been called a “creeping natural hazard.” It can result from numerous factors ranging from a limited amount of precipitation to the causal effects of how humans use water. Although water is a “renewable” resource, it is also limited. 

Many Americans take a steady flow from their taps for granted. Whether it is for cooking, bathing, summer sports, or hydroelectric power­—it seems like it will always be there.

But what about how drought and wildfire will change the fabric of everyday existence? Home destruction, altered living conditions, interrupted education, and work patterns will combine to create a diminished sense of security and stability. Upended are the usual support systems of extended family, pets, and friends. Aside from fragmenting daily routines, a wildfire event is frightening.

Luckily, there are organizations that have thought through this situation. 

The National Drought Mitigation Center has a robust website of information and education. They have a portal dedicated to Drought for Kids, which can help in introducing the subject to children.

I reached out to Tonya K. Bernadt, Education and Outreach Specialist at the Center, for some insights. She responded: 

“Droughts are a normal part of the climate, just like floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes. It differs in that it doesn’t have a clear beginning or end like a tornado or hurricane does. It starts and ends slowly, and we don’t always see the effects of drought for weeks, months, or even years. 

“People play a big role in drought. If we use too much water during times of normal precipitation, we may not have enough water when drought occurs, so it’s important to conserve water. There are many things we can do around the house. Turn off the tap when brushing your teeth, take shorter showers, only water the lawn when it really needs it, plant native plants that do well in the area you live, and don’t leave the water running if you aren’t using it inside and outside of your house. These are just a few of the ways that you can help conserve water.” 

Other suggested strategies:

  • Have a conversation with your children that is in sync with their developmental level. Reach out to your child’s school to see what evacuation and emergency plans have been formulated. (Many schools put strategies into play after 9/11). The local firehouse will also have essential information.
  • It’s good to have a preparedness plan if you live in an area that may be affected. Children have developing immune systems. They are more sensitive and will have physical reactions to smoke inhalation. These can include allergies and potential respiratory infections. Formulate a family evacuation plan from your home premises and your neighborhood, and factor in what to do if you have children at different locations. Put together an “emergency bag” with necessities to cover the essential requirements for staying outside the home.

The climate provisions in the Build Back Better Act include specific funds dedicated to the wildfire crisis that earmarks $4 billion to deter wildfire spread to at-risk communities and $150 million to assist communities in preparing for wildfire smoke. 

Parents can also be proactive by reaching out to their state governments to demand their districts have a “drought preparedness plan” that combines science, policy initiatives, and mobilization to raise public consciousness.

It’s an essential step for protecting the future.

This article originally appeared on the Moms Clean Airforce blog.

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