Technological drought: a new category of water scarcity

Publication Name

Journal of Environmental Management


In this paper, we argue that current definitions of drought, especially in the context of small-scale agricultural production, are incomplete. We introduce the concept of ‘technological drought’ to account for crop failures, reduced yields or water scarcity, which are the consequence of an inability to supplement water when there is a lack of irrigation technology and/or existing poor water management. We illustrate the diversity of causes of technological drought, which can include shortages of fuel or electricity to operate pumps, problematically high costs to access irrigation infrastructure, or constrained access to pumps that have to be shared among multiple farmers. We argue that vulnerability to technological drought can be strongly conditioned by socio-economic conditions and that its impact can be magnified when population growth and the demand for food mean that any decline in yield can have serious consequences for food security. We show that technological drought is a complex phenomenon, and can be differentiated from the more widely-recognised classes of drought (meteorological, agricultural, hydrological, and socio-economic) in multiple ways. In particular, technological drought exhibits an important dependence on the socio-economic context of agricultural production. It is perhaps most evident in developing economies, especially where agricultural output depends strongly on the capacity of individual farmers to manage crop water supply on small holdings. Technological drought can follow from even brief interruptions to monsoon rainfall during critical stages of crop growth, such that technological droughts can be distinguished from other forms of drought by their brevity.

Open Access Status

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Article Number


Funding Sponsor

Faculty of Science, Monash University



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