ODPEM Government of Jamaica
Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management
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Learn More About Drought

The Meteorological Service is responsible for monitoring, analyzing and archiving the rainfall records of Jamaica. Its Climate Branch maintains a rainfall network of nearly four hundred rain gauges and rainfall recorders located strategically across the island. From the information collected the values for the island’s drought Index are computed. This index is used to determine the onset, intensity and end of a drought in Jamaica.


Drought conditions can affect specific sections of parishes or widespread over most of the island.


Types of Drought


Drought is defined as a long period of weather without rain. There are more precise definitions for specific types of drought. The most commonly used are:

  • Agricultural drought: a period when soil moisture is inadequate to meet the demands for crops to initiate and sustain plant growth. In areas experiencing drought, plant life is severely damaged.
  • Hydrological drought: period of below average or normal stream-flow and/or depleted reservoir storage. Hydrological drought occurs out of phase with meteorological and agricultural drought because it takes longer for the deficiencies to show up in lakes and streams.
  • Meteorological drought: a period of well-below average or normal precipitation (rainfall) that spans from a few months to a few years. 

There is also a new phenomenon called:

  • Socio-economic drought: this occurs where the demand for an economic good exceeds the supply because of a weather-related shortfall in the water supply. An example of this phenomenon is the availability of rice, a Caribbean staple.

Causes of Drought


There are several causes of drought:

  • Changing weather patterns manifested through the excessive build up of heat on the earth's surface.
  • Meteorological changes that result in a reduction of rainfall.
  • Reduced cloud cover that results in greater evaporation rates.
  • Inadequate planning.
  • Over-grazing and poor cropping methods that result in reduced water-retention capacity of the soil.
  • Improper soil conservation techniques that leads to soil degradation.
  • Densely populated lands.

Impacts of Drought


The impacts of drought can be economic, environmental or social:

  • Lowering of the water table
  • Erosion
  • Based on its insidious nature drought response tend to be late and uncoordinated that leads to crisis management rather than risk management
  • Rapid depletion of soil water
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Over-exploitation such as over-grazing and deforestation can lead to desertification
  • Disruption to the normal workings of society in terms of quality of life
  • Starvation in some countries, especially in Africa

Jamaica's Drought Vulnerability


Jamaica is particularly vulnerable to the drought hazard because of the following reasons:

  • As a developing country, Jamaica is particularly vulnerable to drought as we rely heavily on agriculture.
  • Jamaica lies within the tropics and so we are dependent on more than one rainy season. A deficiency in any one season can produce a damaging drought.
  • The increase in Jamaica's population due to urbanization, has led to a great increased demand for an already limited supply of water.
  •  Limited/poor national water storage systems.


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