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How Botswana is Coping With The Years of Drought

Updated: Jun 4

By Boitumelo Pauline Marumo

Friday 17 May 2024

President Mokgweetsi Masisi has declared 2022/2023 a severe arable agricultural drought year throughout the country.  A statement from Office of the President informed that that this drought is worse than 1981, and keep in mind that the 1981 drought devastated the whole country, affecting 1 037 300 people, while the last 2018-2019 drought mostly around the Okavango Delta area, affected 38 000 people. Drought is a period in which the supply of moisture falls short of what some or all of the living groups in an area now demand and below their capacity to absorb the shortage without harm, disruption, or undue expense is referred to as a drought.

Since the 1950s, several multi-year droughts have been documented in Botswana, making it one of the nations most vulnerable to drought worldwide. Drought has a severe negative impact on fragile food and agricultural output, interrupts urban water supplies, and negatively damages rural economies and sociocultural structures. Because of this, more than 10% of the population in the nation suffers from severe chronic food insecurity and nutrition issues. A portion of the income for almost 70% of rural households comes from agriculture, and rain-fed farming continues to be the primary method of producing crops. Drought primarily affects rangelands resources, which make up over 60% of the nation and are the foundation of the cattle sector. Two thirds of the crops planted the previous season failed due to the 2018–19 drought, and approximately 40,000 cattle died in Ngamiland, a wealthy beef-producing region. The Botswana Drought Resilience Profile supports this.

2022–2023 has been deemed a severe year of arable agricultural drought nationwide by President Mokgweetsi Masisi. citing an official government announcement. Drought primarily affects rangelands resources, which make up over 60% of the nation and are the foundation of the cattle sector. Two thirds of the crops planted the previous season failed due to the 2018–19 drought, and approximately 40,000 cattle died in Ngamiland, a wealthy beef-producing region. The Botswana Drought Resilience Profile supports this. Although there isn't much information available yet about this drought season, the Office of the President did declare last year that it was worse than the one that struck in 1981, which devastated the entire nation and killed 1,037,000 people. In contrast, the most recent drought of 2018–2019, which mostly affected the Okavango Delta area, killed 38 000 people.

Botswana's temperature is rising due to global warming brought on by human-induced climate change, according to studies conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As a result, soils dry out, precipitation decreases, and evaporation rates increase. Grazing methods that are not sustainable can cause vegetation to disappear, expose soil to the sun and wind, hasten erosion, and decrease water infiltration. This makes it harder for the land to hold onto rainfall, which exacerbates dry conditions.

Climate change is altering global atmospheric circulation patterns, potentially leading to erratic rainfall patterns in Botswana. This can result in periods of intense rainfall followed by extended dry periods, exacerbating drought conditions. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) highlighted the need for a global drought reboot as climate change will lead to severe and more frequent dry spells. Since the 1970s, the global land area affected by drought has doubled.

"Climate change is turning out to be our biggest challenge," stated John Steglin, a senior meteorologist at Botswana's Department of Meteorological Services, at this year's World Meteorological Day. He also mentioned that the unpredictable weather patterns have left animals in the national parks without food or water. Elephants, lions, buffaloes, baboons, and several other wild species are now compelled to travel great distances in search of food and water due to drought conditions brought on by climate change. Going back in time, the Drought in Botswana Journal from 1984 states that drought can sometimes push households into persistent poverty. This is so because rain-fed agriculture provides food, capital, and household incomes for households in rural areas. Households affected by drought resort to property disposal as a means of survival. Loss of crops and cattle decreases wealth for resource-rich households, but such disinvestment may become irreversible for impoverished households. Drought has a greater impact on financial institutions, industry, tourism, human health and welfare, agriculture, and water resources.

In Botswana, droughts are generally addressed as emergencies and addressed with crisis-based programs that promote reliance on government assistance. When there is a drought, the government usually provides emergency aid in the form of feeding children and vulnerable groups in schools and child welfare clinics, purchasing mobile water tanks to help supplement human water supply shortages, and increasing the employment quota for Ipelegeng. Additional actions taken include the offering of drought relief discounts on certain animal foods, immunizations and supplements, and programs for buying cattle. Most of these programs have used a broad strategy that ignored differential vulnerability. Because of the ongoing reactionary approach to drought relief, neither response times nor dangers have been reduced, indicating that there is room for additional learning.

There are about 9 policies aimed at addressing drought, either as a direct policy or drought-relevant policies include such as the Urban Government Act (1969) ; Finance and Audit Act of 1996 ; National Policy on Disaster Management (NPDM), 1996; Emergency Powers Act ; National Disaster Risk Management Plan (NDRMP), 2009; NDP11; Vision36; the National Poverty Eradication Policy and Strategies; National Environmental Policy; National Climate Change Policy and other sector development plans; National Disaster Risk Reduction Strategy (NDRRS), 2013-2018 and the Draft Drought Management Strategy (DMS), 2019. 

Botswana Vulnerability Assessment Committee (BVAC) was formed in 2008 as part of the regional effort to respond to the food security crisis that faced SADC countries at the time. Since then, the BVAC has been undertaking annual livelihood vulnerability assessments with the intention to inform decision making for interventions.

In recognition of the Botswana food security challenges and informed by the Drought and Household Food Security Vulnerability Assessment and Analysis Report 2023, the Government of Botswana in July 2023 declared the year 2022 / 2023 a severe agricultural drought year. For the current drought, The Government has thus proposed relief measures that will be implemented immediately until June 2024 through the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development. In support of the Government of Botswana’s proposed relief measures, UNDP in Botswana and the Embassy of Japan in Botswana launched a project in the Ngamiland region on the 30th of April 2024 at Shakawe. The project will amongst others provide livelihood support by supplying food, climate-resistant agricultural technologies and access to water solutions.

Although the Government has put in place strategies to mitigate the impacts of drought, there is a need to create awareness among the communities in Botswana on the cyclic nature of drought as years of good rainfall are usually followed by those of drought conditions as such people should adopt coping strategies. We should go back to water harvesting. Simple systems can capture rainwater from rooftops and store it in tanks for later use in gardens, livestock watering, or other non-potable purposes. I have noted that lately households don’t collect water like we used to. They have structures that lead it from the roof and to ground.  Greywater refers to household wastewater excluding sewage. Treatment systems can remove contaminants, allowing reuse for non-potable purposes like irrigation or toilet flushing, reducing reliance on freshwater sources.

In the past, in order to address the drought situation, the short term water restrictions and rationing were introduced. In the medium term, the Government had previously put funds aside for the implementation of drought mitigation projects. These include projects to upgrade and refurbish boreholes, build treatment plants and upgrade water treatment schemes. Botswana has since invested in monitoring rainfall patterns, soil moisture levels, and vegetation health. But it is still not sufficient as seen with this current drought’s reports, it was initially reported as a 2022/2023 drought and updates were brought forward towards the end of the year that we are likely to face a tough drought season for 2023 - 2024 rainfall season too.


  • There is a strong need to move away from a reactionary drought response to a more holistic and proactive approach that works to mitigate the impacts of drought, for example through improved monitoring and early warning systems, and the decentralisation of drought management efforts. 

  • resources that are provided by government and donors could be redirected toward long-term developmental activities that deal with planning, mitigation and disaster readiness. New strategies that build long-term drought-resilience should not replace, but complement, short-term response measures.

  • Research institutions should develop drought forecasting models and enhance early warning systems to minimize negative impacts of drought to vulnerable groups. Consequently, there is need to increase targeted training and development programmes towards areas of scarcity and comparative advantage

References and Further Reading

(Christensen et al., 2007) ([*Christensen, J. H., Hewitson, B., Busuioc, A., Chen, A., Gao, X., Held, I., ... & Whetton, P. (2007). Regional climate projections. Climate change 2007: The physical science basis, 847-940.])

(Mönnich et al., 2017) ([*Mönnich, E. C., Aalto, J., & Brüggermann, R. (2017). Impacts of grazing intensity on ecosystem services of drylands. A review. Land Degradation & Development, 28(2), 515-530.])

(Kalogeras et al., 2014) ([*Kalogeras, I. E., & Giannakidis, G. (2014). Desalination technologies: Methods and future potential. Desalination and Water Treatment, 54(9-12), 2796-2814.])

(Government of Botswana, 2022) ([Government of Botswana. (2022, April 14). National Drought Monitoring Centre. [Webpage]. Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Water and Land Management])

(UNDP, 2013) ([United Nations Development Programme. (2013). Enhancing drought resilience in Africa. [Report]. United Nations Development Programme])

(World Bank, 2018) ([World Bank. (2018). Drought resilience in Sub-Saharan Africa: A pastoral risk management framework. [Report].

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