It was a year characterized by extreme drought.
From North America to Africa, Europe and Asia, in 2022 huge swaths of the planet were parched. Lakes and rivers in several countries have shrunk to extremely low levels, and dry conditions have threatened crops and fueled devastating wildfires around the world.
As the world warms, climate change will exacerbate drought conditions on the planet. Research has shown that global warming is exacerbating drought by increasing evaporation, depleting bodies of water and drying out soils and other vegetation.
Here’s what the drought looked like this year on the four most affected continents.
The world’s largest continent presented in 2022 a dire plan for the consequences of drought and extreme heat in a warming world.
In March, an early heatwave hit India and Pakistan, causing at least 90 deaths as temperatures soared to 115 degrees Fahrenheit in some places. Scorching conditions sparked forest fires in India and accelerated the melting of glaciers in northern Pakistan, leading to catastrophic flooding and even destroying a bridge in the Hunza Valley. A study published in May by the group World Weather Attribution found that severe heatwaves in India and Pakistan were 30 times more likely to occur due to climate change.
During the summer, prolonged heat waves in China caused severe droughts in many parts of the country. Sections of the Yangtze River, Asia’s longest river, hit record lows in August, with some areas almost completely dry. According to the Nature Conservancy, approximately 400 million people in China depend on the Yangtze River for drinking water and irrigation of rice, wheat and other crops. The waterway is also the country’s main source of hydropower and plays a key role in managing shipping and the global supply chain.
In the country’s southwestern Sichuan province, the most extreme heat wave and drought in six decades caused water flow to the region’s hydroelectric reservoirs to drop sharply in late August, prompting the provincial government to warn of “particularly severe” power outages, South China Morning post reported.
The following month, in September, officials in central China’s Jiangxi province issued a “red alert” for water supplies for the first time as water levels in Poyang Lake dropped dramatically due to drought. The freshwater lake is the country’s largest and is usually a flood outlet for the Yangtze River.
According to the Jiangxi Water Monitoring Center, drought prevailed in central China during the summer months, and Jiangxi province experienced 60% less rainfall from July to September compared to the same period last year.
In Anhui province, which is adjacent to Jiangxi, the water level in 10 reservoirs has dropped below “dead pool” status, when the reservoir is so low that water cannot flow downstream from the dam.
The effects of extreme heat and drought have also been dire for parts of Africa in 2022.
According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Horn of Africa, which covers the easternmost part of the continent, experienced its longest drought in 40 years in 2022. The region experienced drier than average conditions as it suffered a fifth consecutive failed rainy season. Humanitarian organizations have warned that the prolonged drought is exacerbating food insecurity for more than 50 million people in the region.
Parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia have been hardest hit by drought this year. Guleid Artan, director of the WMO’s climate center for East Africa, said in August that the three countries are “on the brink of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe” due to rainfall deficits and ongoing drought.
The United Nations has said that severe droughts and food shortages are likely to continue, which could lead to famine in parts of the Horn of Africa.
“Unfortunately, we have yet to see the worst of this crisis,” Michael Dunford, regional director of the UN’s World Food Program for East Africa, said in a November 28 statement. “If you think 2022 is going to be bad, beware of what’s coming in 2023.”
In a report published in October, the United Nations and the Red Cross said parts of Africa and Asia would become uninhabitable within decades due to extreme heat.
“The impacts would include large-scale suffering and loss of life, population movements and the further entrenchment of inequalities. These effects are already appearing,” the organizations jointly wrote.
Elsewhere in the world, conditions were similarly parched last summer.
A preliminary report published in August by the European Commission found that droughts in Europe in 2022 were the worst in at least 500 years. Many regions have experienced drought since the beginning of the year, exacerbated by drier than usual summer conditions and a series of heat waves from June to October.
According to the report, almost two-thirds of the European continent was on drought warning or alert in August. Low rainfall in the summer months and persistently dry conditions have stressed summer crops in parts of Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Hungary.
In Italy, rivers and lakes dried up in the summer. Large stretches of the country’s longest river, the Po, have dried up completely, forcing officials to declare a state of emergency in five northern regions in July.
Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, has also shrunk to near historic lows over the summer. Water from the lake was diverted into local rivers to help farmers in the country’s parched north, leaving Lake Garda 12.6 inches above the water table, which approached the lowest level recorded in 2003 and 2007.
Waterways in other parts of Europe have been similarly affected by drought and extreme heat. In August, the Danube in Serbia shrunk to one of its lowest levels in nearly a century. The Loire River in France also fell to an all-time low in the summer due to the country’s record drought.
Parts of North America, such as the western United States, have been hit by a severe drought this year. Dry conditions have fueled dangerous forest fires in Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington state.
A study published in February in the journal Nature Climate Change found the ongoing “megaddrought” conditions in the southwestern United States, which have persisted for the past 22 years, are the worst since at least 800 A.D.
The country’s key water bodies shrunk to alarmingly low levels in 2022. In June, water levels in Lake Mead, which formed on the Colorado River on the border between Arizona and Nevada, dropped to their lowest levels since the lake filled up in the 1930s. Historically low water levels have huge implications for water supply and hydropower production for millions of people in Arizona, California, Nevada and parts of Mexico.
Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the US, was similarly hit by intense drought, with its water dropping to its lowest level since it was filled in the mid-1960s, according to NASA Earth Observatory.
The fall in Lake Mead’s water level also had unexpected consequences: in May, two sets of human remains were discovered as a result of the reservoir’s shoreline retreating.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com