Analytical Essay on Dust Bowl: Economic, Social and Environmental Impacts of Droughts

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The Dust Bowl

Question One - What is a drought?

A natural hazard is a natural phenomenon that commonly have a negative effect on flora and fauna or the environment. These consist of earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts, cyclones, hurricanes and more. Natural hazards occur in all biomes in different ways, and at different times. We must always be prepared for these hazards to take place, to prevent or to reduce their impact. Our chosen natural hazard is drought. A drought is an event in which a period of time suffers from a low rate of rainfall and water supply. A drought can last for months or years, or may be declared after a few days. Droughts are listed into just 5 different categories, the meteorological drought, agricultural drought, hydrological drought, socioeconomic drought and an ecological drought. Each of which have different effects on the environment.

  • Meteorological,​ is a combination of weather patterns that send dry weather across for multiple days or even weeks it is measured in the magnitude of precipitation the area gets within a period of time.
  • Agricultural, ​refers to circumstances when soil moisture is lacking and results in the lack of crop growth and production. It concerns itself with short term drought situations. Agriculture can rebound or be impaired within a very short period of time depending upon the strength of drought conditions or precipitation events.
  • Hydrological, ​refers to shortages of water resources, for example, groundwater, reservoir, or stream levels are dramatically reduced. Conditions for hydrologic drought are built over extended periods of time. It takes a longer time for reservoirs or streams to become depleted, which corresponds to longer replenishing periods.
  • Socioeconomic, ​associate the supply and demand of some economic good with elements of meteorological, hydrological, and agricultural drought. ... Socioeconomic drought occurs when the demand for an economic good exceeds supply resulting in a significant loss of water.
  • Ecological,​ defined as a period of time in which deficit in soil moisture, or clean water resulting in significant stresses on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

Question Two - Where are droughts likely to occur and why?

Meteorologists predict drought based on precipitation patterns, stream flow, and moisture of soil over long periods of time. Droughts occur in places where water is lacking, such as Australia, India and Pakistan. Droughts can be very severe and have a dramatic effect on a country and its citizens. possible signs of drought include unusually extended periods of sunny weather, reduced water levels in lakes and other water sources, and the yellowing or wilting of plants. Droughts occur in these water starved places because of the reduced soil moisture, fluctuating ocean and land temperatures and climate change. With the unusual periods of dryness this in turn affects the soil moisture which leads to the destruction of agriculture and more freedom for the drought to take form with the lower amounts of moisture. Fluctuating ocean and land temperatures greatly dictate the weather patterns with even the tiniest change can have massive effect

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Question Three - What causes droughts?

Droughts start off at being just a dry period with no rain where plants and ground starts to dry out. If this persists for an extended amount of time then it is considered a drought. More in depth reasons of the causes of droughts include things such as land and water temperatures, lack of rain, weather patterns, soil moisture levels, and water demand. If land and water temperatures are unstable and rise too high they can cause increased evaporation as well as drying out the land. This can kill crops due to the dry land as well as not provide enough rain to nourish the land. An issue with this is that the water demand can increase and not be fulfilled.

Another cause of droughts is lack of rain, this also correlated with weather patterns. If the rain/water cycle is unstable and not steady the ground does not have time to properly nourish itself. Because even if there is a big storm and lots of rain comes down, the rain will not absorb fully into the ground. Unlike if there were small amounts of rain each day, were it would all gradually absorb.

Soil moisture levels are extremely important as well. If the evaporation rates are too high the ground will not be fertile and moist leading to crops failing and animals not having the desired food. There are Australian native plants that have adapted to these conditions but imported plants struggle to survive with the harsh sun.

Questions Four - What are the economic, social and environmental impacts of droughts?

The Dustbowl significantly affected economically as the massive dust storms forced farmers out of business, they lost both their livelihoods and their homes. The prices of crops rapidly went up due to the availability and the crops which were damaged from the drought. By 1937, more than one out of five farmers were on federal emergency relief and families migrated to California or cities to find a new job due to losing their job from the drought. The dust bowl also severely affected socially as the cities and countries that endured the bowl, suffered a decrease in population as there was heavy migration to move to a better city where the city or the country was not in danger.

The Dust Bowl was the worst disaster in the United States, still leaving impacts on the country. The biggest aspect in which the drought-affected the country was the environment. In the summer of 1931, the rain stopped coming and drought began to begin and lasted for most of the decade. The crops withered and died, which was the start of the prices rising. Livestock went blind and suffocated, with their stomachs full of fine sand. Farmers, unable to see through the blowing sand, tied themselves to guide ropes to make the walk from their houses to their barns. Families wore respiratory masks and cleaned their homes each morning with shovels and broom to help filter out the dust. Still, children and adults inhaled a lot of sand, coughed up dirt and died of a new epidemic called ‘dust pneumonia’.

Question Five - How did the Government and other groups/services respond to the Dust Bowl and was their response effective?

The dustbowl’s sand was described so thick that when the wind blew they could not even see their own hand in front of their face. Living in the dust bowl became nearly impossible. Dust got everywhere. The people spent much of their time trying to clean the dust in the house and trying to keep it out. The majority of the farmers had to move as they could not survive. Crops could not grow and livestock would often be choked to death by the amount of dust they inhaled. Red Cross workers provided families with respiratory masks to help with the amount of sand they were inhaling and the dirt they were choking up. The federal government implemented programs to help the farmers that stayed in the DustBowl. They taught farmers proper farming practises to help preserve the soil. They also purchased some land to let it regenerate in order to prevent future dust storms. It took some time, but much of the land was recovered by the early 1940s.

In response to the severe drought, groups such as the Soil Conservation Service generated detailed soil maps and took photos of the land from the sky. To create shelterbelts to reduce soil erosion, groups such as the United States Forestry's Services planted trees on private lands. Finally, groups like the Resettlement Administration, which later became the arm Security Administration encouraged small farm owners to resettle on other lands if they lived in dryer parts of the Plains. To stabilise the prices, the government paid farmers and ordered more than six million pigs to be slaughtered. It paid to have the meat packed and distributed to the poor and hungry. FSRC (Federal Surplus Relief Corporation) was established to regulate crops. The FSRC shared apples, beans, canned beef, flour, and pork products were distributed through local relief channels. Cotton goods were later included for the people who needed these materials.

In 1937, the federal government began an aggressive campaign to encourage farmers in the Dust Bowl to adopt planting methods that conserve the soil. In 1939, after nearly a decade of dirt and dust, the drought finally came to an end when regular rainfall finally returned to the region. The government still encouraged continuing the use of conservation methods to protect the soil and ecology of the Plains. At the end of the drought, the programs and groups which were implemented during the droughts maintained a positive relationship between American farmers and the federal government.

Question Six - What are the current management strategies used to stop/reduce the effects of droughts on communities. Are these effective?

Australia has many different management strategies to help people during drought. Things such as water supply management, water management, water conservation and education, land management and economic and social empowerment. All of these strategies have produced results for communities providing sustainable information about the effectiveness of these strategies

Water supply management:

This strategy is related to the withdrawal of large amounts of water from water supplies and water restrictions placed on households to primarily save water. Water restrictions have multiple levels related to the amount of water in major dams, water restrictions apply to everyone in Sydney, The Blue Mountains, Illawarra, residents and businesses. Water restrictions control the amount of water households can use, specifically it restricts the amount of drinking water. During level 1 restrictions people are allowed to water lawns gardens and new turfs (ONLY if it’s 70m2) before 10am or after 4pm using a handheld hose fitted with a trigger nozzle, watering cans/buckets, drip irrigation systems and automatic watering systems including:

  • Automatic weather adjusters
  • Rain sensor
  • Soil moisture sensor

During level 1 water restrictions people are also able to fill pools/spas with a small amount of drinking water to replace evaporated water and fill new or renovated pools up to 10,000 litres with drinking water without a permit. However people cannot exceed this 10,000 litre cap when filling pools with drinking water without a one-of-pool filling permit and approval pool cover, this permit needs to be permanently attached to the pool. The pool supplier must have a business water exemption permit before they can come to the persons property and work on their pool. The cleaning over hard surfaces specifically paths and driveways are allowed to some extent when in level 1 water restrictions. People are allowed to spot clean specific areas for health and safety reasons with a high pressure hose fitted with a handheld hose fitted with a trigger nozzle. However people are not allowed to clean these hard surfaces apart of general cleaning and leaving hoses/taps running unattended including having water restrictions, which Australian citizens currently have. As well as this, using more native plants that have adapted to this lifestyle and use less water. Capturing runoff from rain and holding it in water tanks and barrels can also be a sustainable source to hydrate. Grouping plants to their specific water needs and then watering them accordingly this strategy allows less water to be wasted while hydrating the environment.

Some more information -

Better monitor and measure water supply and uses nationwide

Reduce indoor water use through more efficient appliances, technologies, and behaviors

Reduce outdoor water efficiency through drought-tolerant landscape design and improved irrigation technologies

Increase recycling and reuse of water, including capturing and reusing stormwater, greywater, and wastewater

Make more strategic use of groundwater

Question Seven - How does climate change affect droughts and what are the future impacts of it?

The relationship between droughts and climate change is one where the effects have gotten worse and worse over the years. The duration and effects of drought are more prolonged and damaging. As well as this, the temperature of the Earth has risen fairly significantly, which has led to an unbalanced water cycle where there is increased evaporation. As well as this, snow is more likely to melt quickly, meaning that in the even warmer weather there is no water/snow to keep the ground hydrated.

Through this, the risk of hydrological and agricultural drought increases as temperatures rise. Such an increase of droughts and the duration of them has led to the original precautions not working as much. If America or any other country was to have another Dustbowl, the effects would be devastating once again. By now the world should be prepared for another disastrous event like this. Some massive impacts of droughts are -

  • A longer duration of drought - We have longer droughts due to the fact that the rain is so irregular and uncommon. This leads to it taking quite a while to regain proper land.
  • Increased evaporation - The Earth is getting a degree hotter every decade. Due to this, an extreme amount of water is getting evaporated. And not just from ponds or such, it includes the moisture from soil. This leads to plants dying and animals not having a food source.
  • Drier ground - The cause of drier ground is due to increased evaporation. As well as this, unstable rain means that it does not get enough moisture to be fertile.

Due to these changes presumably from climate change, we need to invent new ways to handle droughts. Because clearly the other management strategies are not effective enough on droughts. One issue that has quite a bit of solutions is the increased evaporation of water.

Farmers need water to grow their crops and keep their livestock alive. To help with this farmers use farm dams. Yet they keep losing water each day. To assist in this, they build them as deep and slim as possible so that there is less surface area for the heat to take from. They also have different types of covers to put on them as well as providing shade above them. These methods could be used in larger dams on a much bigger scale. If they applied this to places such as Warragamba dam then there would be less evaporation and therefore more water attainable to us.


  1. (2019). The water cycle. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
  2. Warragamba Dam. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
  3. (2018). ​Controlling Dam Evaporation | Kangaroo Island | Water Security​. [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
  4. (2017). ​What causes drought?​ [online] Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2019].
  5. Restuccia, R. (2016). ​5 Causes Of Drought​. [online] Jain Irrigation. Available at:​ht.
  6. Customer Interaction (2017). ​Water restrictions​. [online] Available at:
  7. (2019). ​Types of Drought​. [online] Available at:
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