Drought | ActionAid UK


Consolata and her daughter Elizabeth carry jerry cans from a watering hole during drought in Kenya in 2017

Consolata and her daughter Elizabeth carry jerry cans from a watering hole during drought in Kenya in 2017 

Photo: Alice Oldenburg/ActionAid

Why drought can devastate communities

Drought is difficult to forecast - and it cannot be stopped. When it is not managed effectively it can have huge socio-economic consequences, including mass migration, famine and death, as well as long-term degredation of natural resources.1

But the severity of drought depends on a number of other issues present in a region, including:

  • Demographic pressure on the environment
  • Food insecurity
  • Economic systems strictly dependent on agriculture
  • Poor infrastructure e.g. irrigation and water supply and sanitation systems
  • Poor health status of the population before the disaster
  • Time of the year, with the most critical period being before the harvest
  • Absence of warning systems
  • Population displacement
  • Other concurrent situations: economic crisis, political instability, armed conflict.2

Why women and girls are the hardest hit by drought

As in all emergencies, women and girls are nearly always hardest hit by drought. They are often responsible for care-giving in their families, which means walking increasingly long distances for water, putting them at greater risk of violence and sexual assault. 

Owing to cultural customs, women often eat least, and last, in their families, increasing their risk of malnutrition.

Within the home, women can also often face aggression and domestic violence as the burden to find food and water increases.

Meanwhile girls are usually the first to be taken out of school in order to help support the family.

They may even be forced into child marriage in order to ease the burden on their family.

ActionAid’s policy manager in Kenya, Ruth Masime, says:

As a result of the drought women and girls face a triple burden in some cases: to survive, care for their families and evade sexual violence in the process. Urgent action is needed to avert severe hunger, sexual violence and community breakdown.” 

  • 1. http://www.fao.org/land-water/water/drought/en/
  • 2. https://www.who.int/hac/techguidance/ems/drought/en/

ActionAid’s approach to drought

In high-risk countries around the world, ActionAid works with communities to build their long-term resiliance to drought, including by:

  • Training people to develop more climate-resiliant agricultural techniques
  • Supporting the building of sustainable water sources
  • Helping people, especially women, to develop alternative income sources.

In a drought emergency, ActionAid and our local partners work to save lives in affected communities, putting women and girls at the heart of our response, including by: 

  • Distributing food, water and water purification tablets
  • Distributing essentials kit, including items tailored to the needs of the community
  • Ensuring women and girls can safely access supplies
  • Supporting women and girls at risk of sexual violence.


Page updated 5 October 2020