Prologue

Authored by: Vikram M. Mehta

Natural Decadal Climate Variability

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781466554528
eBook ISBN: 9781315374482
Adobe ISBN:

10.1201/9781315374482-2

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Abstract

Severe drought in the Mississippi River valley and southern Great Plains in the United States in the 1450s Common Era (CE) resulted in the abandonment of Mississippian settlements in eastern Oklahoma and the area around the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. In the mid-1780s CE in France, long-running dry conditions worsened to droughts, causing high prices of all staple foods; these droughts and consequent famines were a catalyst of “the Great Fear of 1789” and the French Revolution. In India, droughts in 1789–1801 CE were followed by severe famine, increasing prices of essential foods from 300% to 800% in a few years in some regions. At least 11 million people died in these droughts and famine that became known as “the Skull Famine” due to human skeletons lying on roads and fields. More recently, droughts in northeast Brazil in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries CE led to mass migrations to southern cities, causing socioeconomic and political problems. In the Great Plains’ “Dust Bowl” droughts in the United States in the 1930s CE, 3.5 million people migrated out of the Plains states. In the droughts in Ethiopia and the Sahel region of Africa in the 1980s CE, over 1 million people died and an inestimable number of people migrated out of the drought-affected regions. * In the twenty-first century CE, droughts have possibly been a catalyst of Syrian Civil War; this has led to over 250,000 deaths, mass migrations of 6 million people within Syria, and over 4 million refugees in neighboring countries. What caused these and other multiyear to decadal droughts in various regions of the world? Can we understand why such droughts occur and what are their consequences for human societies? Can we develop policies to prevent mass misery, famines, unimaginable numbers of deaths, socioeconomic–political turmoil, and war when such droughts occur in the future? This book attempts to address these questions.

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