5 droughts that changed human history

drought

(Holger Link, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content


Reports of severe droughts are rarely out of the headlines as our world warms up. North Korea has said it’s suffering the worst drought in 37 years, while the last five months have been the driest in the history of the Panama Canal, according to authorities.

A recent study says human activity could have exacerbated a century of such droughts.

NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) compared historical precipitation and tree ring data between 1900 and 2005, finding that a “human fingerprint” – through human-manufactured greenhouse gasses – has had a significant impact on global drought risk.

The report argues this human impact is set to grow, potentially leading to “severe” consequences for humanity – including more frequent and severe droughts, food and water shortages, destructive wildfires and conflicts between people competing for resources.

It’s a sobering scenario that, if realized, would lengthen an already extensive list of droughts that have affected the trajectory of human history for thousands of years. Here are five of those droughts and how they are thought to have changed the world.

 Number of deaths caused by major droughts worldwide from 1900 to 2016

Number of deaths caused by major droughts worldwide from 1900 to 2016
Image: Statista

1. The drought that prompted the spread of humanity

DNA research suggests a series of megadroughts between 135,000 and 75,000 years ago may have been responsible for the first migrations of early humans out of Africa.

Scientists say that variable climate conditions made the land in parts of Africa frequently inhospitable for human habitation. Droughts may have limited access to fundamental resources, forcing inhabitants to migrate outside the continent to find sustenance.

2. The drought that changed ancient Egypt

Archaeologists investigating the royal tombs of Egypt’s Old Kingdom found evidence of a drought that hit the Middle East and parts of Europe 4,500 years ago.

Some experts say it was that drought, rather than civil strife, that caused the fall of the pharaohs, who ruled Ancient Egypt for 3,000 years before the region became a province of the Roman Empire in 30BC.

3. The drought that destroyed the Mayans

The Mayan empire in Mesoamerica was hit by drought at the most vulnerable moment in its history.

Rapid population growth coincided with a halving of annual rainfall 1,200 years ago, causing crops to fail and a war with neighbouring nations over dwindling water resources to ultimately precipitate the demise of the Mayan civilization.

 

4. The drought that spread deadly diseases

The Dust Bowl in the Great Plains of the US Midwest and Canada in the mid-1930s drove two million people off the land and led to an outbreak of diseases.

At the time it was not realized that the dust transmitted measles, influenza and a fungal lung disease called Valley Fever. For people already weakened by malnutrition, these diseases often proved fatal.

5. China’s ‘Most Disastrous’ Drought

While China has weathered numerous severe droughts throughout its history, perhaps none was as consequential as the 1928-1930 drought, which some experts have called “the most disastrous event in the 20th century in China.” The drought led to a widespread famine, claiming the lives of anywhere between three million and 10 million people.

More recently, in mid-2017, Chinese authorities said a large northern region had experienced the worst drought on record, citing climate change as the culprit for extreme weather patterns throughout parts of the country.

the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

What the Amazon rain forest tells us about globalization

CEOs in these countries are more likely to go with their gut

Nuclear weapons in Lithuania: defence against Russia or target for terrorists?

Corruption thwarts attempts to build a better world and ‘must be fought by all, for all’

3 strategies for Africa to thrive in this new era of globalization

UN urges ‘maximum restraint’ as Israel-Hamas tensions rise over rocket attack

Countries should focus on labour market policies to help refugees and improve coordinated actions to tackle illegal immigration

Stability in Europe has no chances because of Ukraine

Human rights experts call for ‘paradigm shift’ on arbitrary detention in Qatar

Young people are not a nameless, faceless mass. So why do we treat them as such?

Can Pakistan make its energy sector greener, cheaper and more reliable? The government thinks so

Maduro ‘brings the truth’ about Venezuela to UN Assembly; says he is ready to meet US President Trump

Bold measures needed to protect cross-border and seasonal workers in EU, MEPs say

Security Council calls for dialogue in Haiti

Coronavirus could worsen hunger in the developing world

Two rhythms and a sharpened pencil: how art can help us heal and make sense of the world

State aid: Commission invites comments on State aid rules for the deployment of broadband networks

Approving most of EU’s accounts, EP requests new measures to protect EU spending

From Shadows to Sunlight, Paraguay’s Road to Transparency

UN health agency spotlights stalled effort to close health divide across Europe, in new report

Brexit: political groups discuss options for an orderly withdrawal

High-tech or ‘high-touch’: UK survey gives clues to the jobs of the future

The Brexit factor in the US-China trade war and other conflicts

Your smartphone may know more about your mental health than you

Mass measles vaccination campaign begins in Ebola-hit DR Congo province

For how long and at what cost can the ECB continue printing trillions to keep euro area going?

The European reaction to the neo-fascist wind

The issue of mental health for modern young doctors

How energy infrastructure is shaping geopolitics in East Asia

EU cross-border payments outside Eurozone: MEPs scrap excessive fees

Russia won’t let Ukraine drift westwards in one piece

Use “blockchain” model to cut small firms’ costs and empower citizens, urge MEPs

Confronting neo-mercantilism: why regulation is critical to global trade

A Europe that protects: EU customs seized over 31 million fake goods at EU borders in 2017

This tech company is aiming to plant 500 billion trees by 2060 – using drones

These are the regions where people have most faith in their schools

6 steps every country must take now to prevent coronavirus deaths: WHO Director-General

Telemedicine in Brazilian favelas: The medicine of social isolation transforming public health

The next 48 hours may change the European Union

Plastic Oceans: MEPs back EU ban on throwaway plastics by 2021

The EU accuses Russia of bullying Ukraine to change sides

“Is Europe innovative? Oh, Yes we are very innovative!”, Director General of the European Commission Mr Robert-Jan Smits on another Sting Exclusive

The US will impose tariffs on Mexico, says President Trump

The Eurogroup+ is born to govern the EU Banking Union

EU fight against tax-evasion and money laundering blocked by Britain

There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land

This is how COVID-19 is affecting informal workers

25 years on from genocide against the Tutsi, UN Chief warns of ‘dangerous trends of rising xenophobia, racism and intolerance’

How technology can help India breathe more easily

Why it’s good to turn your colleagues into friends

Thailand gave healthcare to its entire population and the results were dramatic

How much more political is the new EU leadership? Does this include personal bend?

How can coronavirus lockdowns end safely and effectively? – WHO briefing

EU prolongs economic sanctions on Russia by six months

With potential to boost profits by up to 20 per cent, a woman’s place is at work, says UN labour agency

Is it impossible to place the banks under control?

ITU Telecom World 2016: it’s all about working together

Commission steps up EU action to protect and restore the world’s forests

Banks promise easing of credit conditions in support of the real economy

What can smallpox teach us about how we’ve managed COVID-19?

More Stings?

Advertising

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s