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2022 - Droughts and floods: extreme phenomena intensify only a few months apart...

From droughts …

In recent months we witnessed a catastrophic drought episode that had considerable impacts everywhere in the world. Here are a few of the most striking:

United States


©Jason Houston

The Colorado river, 2 320 kilometres long, supplies water and hydroelectricity to 40 million people in seven states. Exceptional measures have been taken since August and will continue into 2023, in a rationale of cooperation between the territories crossed by the river.

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The Mississippi, which stretches 3,766 kilometres, is the longest river in the United States and one of the five greatest rivers in the world. Last October, minds were struck by incredible video images: some parts of the Mississippi had been transformed into deserts. Near Saint Louis, in Missouri, the historic site of Tower Rock could be reached on foot (previously, this rocky island situated in the river could only be reached by boat). Still more exceptional, this crossing could be made on completely dry land, without any moisture in the soil.

In Arkansas, the river reached its lowest level, the previous one dating back to July 1988. This extreme drought brought part of the transport on the river, notably used to transport cereals during critical production periods, to a halt.

Iraq: a drought not seen since 1930 struck the Tigris and the Euphrates


The Diyala river, a tributary of the Tigris, reached an extremely low level in summer 2022. © Hadi Mizban / AP

With a decrease in rainfall and a reduction in discharge in the river, the drought drove the Iraqi population to dig more and more wells for its agriculture. Up to 2022, some 500 wells were dug. The public authorities searched for illegal wells to prevent the overexploitation of groundwater.

There are no incentives to encourage recourse to modern irrigation technologies”, decried the report issued in September by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA). At a time when every drop counted, the great majority of farmers flooded their fields to irrigate them, an ancestral custom synonymous with waste.

Responsible for hydric resources at Najaf, Jamil al-Assadi explained that the wells are bored in sectors “that were previously irrigated by rivers and canals”. He also says they can be used to “water livestock and irrigate small orchards and plantations”. But not for rice or wheat, due to the salinity of the water and the small volumes extracted. He asserts that his ministry has reduced by half the tariffs for boring wells. In return, “the farmer must use modern irrigation methods to preserve strategic groundwater reserves”.

The excessive use of groundwater has led to many problems”, warned the Ministry of Water Resources in July, while demanding the preservation of this wealth, according to the State press agency INA. Lake Sawa, in the south, dried up due to a thousand wells being dug illegally, draining the groundwater that charged the lake. Iraq must face another challenge resulting from the overexploitation of groundwater: “If large quantities of water are extracted, the rate of salinity increases”, warned the Ministry.

In Iraq, where farming employs one out of five people, climatic upheavals and insufficient response from the authorities have already led to a rural exodus and social conflicts. The inhabitants of the south demonstrate sporadically, demanding that the government takes action so that the neighbouring country, Turkey, increases the discharge of the rivers by opening the gates of the dams upstream.


In China

A yellow drought warning was issued in November by the national observatory while many regions continued to suffer from a lack of rainfall. The observatory advised the local authorities to use emergency water resources and ensure water supplies, in particular for the inhabitants, and issued warnings against the risk of forest fires in certain places.

The drought is continuing, imperilling agriculture and hydroelectricity production, and thus industry. Last August, drought struck Hubei, Sichuan, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hunan and the megacity of Chongqing. The temperatures were six degrees higher than normal seasonal temperatures. In Sichuan (population: 83 million), the discharges of the rivers fell by 20% to 50%. Globally, hydroelectricity production fell by 26% in July 2022 in comparison to July 2021.


… to floods

In Pakistan

©Akram SHAHID / AFP)

The floods in Pakistan that began in June 2022 intensified in August of the same year. They killed at least 1,700 people, affected the lives of 33 million others and destroyed 250,000 dwellings and 1.8 million hectares of farmland. Pakistan declared a state of emergency on 25 August. Three months later, the fields were replaced by lakes. Harvests were destroyed and famine threatens more than ever while the country’s infrastructures must be rebuilt.

In Chad

In Chad, an emergency situation was declared this autumn due to floods. Diluvian rains and the annual flooding of the rivers Chari and Logone led to floods that hit the population severely. 18 out of Chad’s 23 provinces were affected. Thousands of hectares of crops were destroyed, herds were swept away and many inhabitants were forced to leave their homes due to the rising waters.

In the capital, N’Djamena, a quarter of the city was submerged by water, emphasised the UN Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA ) in its situation report of 11 November. Nearly 150,000 people displaced by the rains found themselves in collective reception centres indicated by the authorities. Humanitarian workers fear an upsurge of diseases like malaria, cholera and other water borne pathologies.

“This situation is likely to generate a large number of diseases, potential epidemics and may lead to breaks in the care of chronic illnesses”, warned the World Health Organisation. Kits of essential drugs were distributed and emergency teams mobilised.

OIM/Anne Schaefer Aerial view of the capital of Chad, N’Djamena, after the torrential rains of August 2022. Vue aérienne.




In Gabon


the Ogooué, the largest and most remarkable river in Gabon, with a length of 1,200 km, left its bed due to the torrential rains that struck the country. Photos and videos on the social networks testified to the seriousness of the damage caused in the province of Middle-Ogooue, mainly in the town of Lambarene.

While waiting for the Ogooue to return to its bed, the ministry of the interior has announced that major actions will be taken to “signal the nation’s solidarity with these distraught populations”.

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