Strategic drought risk management – 8 golden rules

New research led by the Environmental Change Institute’s Paul Sayers provides guidance for water managers in a changing climate.

Major droughts are ever-present threat: one set to increase with climate change and rising water-demand. Historically droughts have been responded to ‘as they happen’ leading to incremental shifts in approach as lessons are learnt. Given the significance of the challenge now faced, this heuristic approach is no longer fit-for-purpose and a new approach is required.

One such approach is outlined in a new paper, recently published in the International Journal of River Basin Management, entitled ‘Strategic drought risk management: eight ‘golden rules’ to guide a sound approach’. The research led by Paul Sayers, Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Environmental Change Institute, and conducted in collaboration with colleagues from WWF-UK and China and General Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Planning and Design at the China’s Ministry of Water Resources, draws from a series of expert workshops, international case studies and analysis of past droughts, to develop a framework for Strategic Drought Risk Management (SDRM).

The framework encourages a focus on long-term outcomes (for people, ecosystems and economies) and views drought as a water-related risk, not simply a hazard. SDRM is presented as a multi-scale endeavour, providing both local and regional solutions whilst addressing short and long-term challenges. It seeks to implement a diverse portfolio of measures during non-drought conditions as well in the run-up to, during and after a drought event whist recognising the critical interdependences between human systems and freshwater ecosystems.

The paper concludes by presenting eight ‘Golden Rules’ to guide a sound approach to successful SDRM, namely to:

1. Set multiple goals and objectives that promote positive long-term outcomes for society;
2. Encourage stakeholders from a variety of different sectors and realms to participate;
3. Implement a portfolio of measures to transition towards a drought resilient society;
4. Utilize limited resources efficiently and fairly to reduce risk and maximize opportunities;
5. Assess whole system behaviour and associated risks and uncertainties over the short- and long-term;
6. Communicate risks (and associated uncertainties) effectively and widely;
7. Understand inherent controversies and trade-offs;
8. Embed a continuous process of review and adaptation;

Golden rules for Strategic Drought Risk Management.

You can find our more about these 8 rules and the research here. For more information about Paul and his research, click here.


Paul B Sayers, Li Yuanyuan, Catherine Moncrieff, Li Jianqiang, David Tickner, Lei Gang & Robert Speed (2017) Strategic drought risk management: eight ‘golden rules’ to guide a sound approach, International Journal of River Basin Management, 15:2, 239-255, DOI: 10.1080/15715124.2017.1280812 

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