"Climate change is projected to increase the frequency, intensity, and duration of droughts, with impacts on many sectors, in particular food, water, and energy," warned World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.
"We need to move away from a piecemeal, crisis-driven approach and develop integrated risk-based national drought policies," he said in a statement, apparently prompted by lack of rains in Africa and large parts of India.
The WMO and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), along with other UN agencies, are intensifying efforts to establish a more coordinated and proactive strategy for managing drought risk to fill existing policy vacuums in countries around the world.
A high-level meeting on National Drought Policy has been scheduled in March next year in Geneva, Switzerland. Pointing to the situation in India, WMO Climate Prediction and Adaptation Branch Director Mannava Sivakumar said the country was experiencing very serious droughts with countrywide rainfall 17 per cent below normal.
In Punjab, India's breadbasket, rainfall was recorded 70 per cent below normal, he said. The southwest monsoon season that began in early June in India brought deficient rainfall in half of the 624 districts in the country through the end of July.
From June through August, which is the first half of the monsoon season, total average seasonal rainfall was just 81 per cent of the long term average, while in the northwest region of the country cumulative rainfall was 65 per cent of the long-term average.
In India, monsoon rainfall less than 90 per cent of average constitutes drought, the UN said. Underlining the severity and reach of the current drought and its potential impact on global food prices, Sivakumar said one quarter of the US was experiencing exceptional drought while the entire country was facing its longest 12 month period in a drought since 1895.
Sivakumar also emphasised that the effects of the drought on the US' soybean and corn harvests was having "a major impact on food prices".
The UN agency on whether, climate and water added that the drought gripping the US and the ripple effects on global food
markets underline the vulnerability of the inter-connected world to a natural hazard that is expected to increase in future.
According to the US Drought Monitor, 62.9 per cent of the contiguous US was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought as of end of July.
The per cent area of the country in the worst drought categories (extreme to exceptional drought) doubled, from 10 per cent in June to 22 per cent in July.
According to the WMO, severe drought also developed in parts of East Africa in late 2010 and continued through most of 2011 with the most severely affected areas encompassing the semi-arid regions eastern and northern Kenya, western Somalia, and southern border areas of Ethiopia.
"The 2010 drought-induced famine in the Greater Horn of Africa, the ongoing crisis in the Sahel region and the extensive drought in the USA show that developing and developed countries alike are vulnerable," UNCCD Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja said.
"Effective long-term solutions to mitigate the effects of drought, and address desertification and land degradation urgently need to be mainstreamed in national development plans and policies," he added.
In 2009, international climate experts gathered at the International Workshop on Drought and Extreme Temperatures in Beijing released their climate projections for the 21st century, forecasting an increase in the frequency of severe droughts in the continental USA and Mexico, the Mediterranean Basin, parts of northern China, across southern Africa and Australia and in parts of South America.