It was a year characterized by extreme drought.
From North America to Africa, Europe to Asia, vast swathes of the planet were burned in 2022. Lakes and rivers in several countries were reduced to extreme lows, and drought conditions threatened crops and fueled destructive wildfires in all over the world.
As the world warms, climate change will exacerbate drought conditions on the planet. Research has shown that global warming makes droughts worse by increasing evaporation, depleting reservoirs, and drying out soil and other vegetation.
Here’s what the drought looked like this year on four of the hardest-hit continents.
The world’s largest continent has provided a dire model in 2022 of the consequences of drought and extreme heat on a warming world.
In March, an initial heat wave hit India and Pakistan, killing at least 90 as temperatures in some places soared as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit. The scorching conditions have triggered forest fires in India and fueled rapidly melting glaciers in northern Pakistan, which has led to catastrophic flooding and even wiped out a bridge in the country’s Hunza Valley. A study published in May by the World Weather Attribution group found that searing heat in India and Pakistan was 30 times more likely due to climate change.
During the summer, prolonged heat waves in China created severe drought conditions in many parts of the country. Sections of the Yangtze River, Asia’s longest river, reached record levels in August, with some areas almost completely dried up. According to the Nature Conservancy, some 400 million people in China depend on the Yangtze River for drinking water and to irrigate rice, wheat and other crops. The waterway is also a major source of hydroelectricity for the country and plays a key role in shipping and global supply chain management.
In the southwestern province of Sichuan, the most extreme heat wave and drought in six decades caused water flow to the region’s hydroelectric reservoirs to collapse in late August, prompting the provincial government to warn of power outages “particularly serious,” according to the South China Morning Post reported.
The following month, September, officials in central China’s Jiangxi province declared a “red alert” for water supplies for the first time as water levels at Poyang Lake dropped dramatically due to drought. The freshwater lake is the largest in the country and is normally an outlet for the Yangtze River.
Drought conditions hit central China during the summer months, with Jiangxi province experiencing 60 percent less rainfall from July to September than the same period last year, according to the Jiangxi Water Monitoring Center.
In Anhui province, which borders Jiangxi, water levels in 10 reservoirs have dropped below “dead pool” status, when the reservoir is so shallow that water cannot flow downstream of the river. dam.
The effects of extreme heat and drought have also been dire for parts of Africa in 2022.
The Horn of Africa, which comprises the easternmost part of the continent, experienced its longest drought in 40 years in 2022, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The region experienced drier than average conditions as it suffered through a fifth consecutive failed rainy season. Aid organizations have warned that the prolonged drought is exacerbating food insecurity problems for more than 50 million people in the region.
Parts of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia have been among the hardest hit by drought this year. Guleid Artan, director of the WTO’s climate center for East Africa, said in August that the three countries were “on the verge of an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe” due to lack of rainfall and an ongoing drought.
The United Nations has said severe droughts and food shortages are likely to persist, which could lead to famine in parts of the Horn of Africa.
“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen the worst of this crisis,” Michael Dunford, the United Nations World Food Program regional director for East Africa, said in a Nov. 28 statement. “If you think 2022 is bad, pay attention to what will happen in 2023.”
In a report released in October, the United Nations and the Red Cross said some regions of Africa and Asia will become uninhabitable within decades due to extreme heat.
“The impacts would include large-scale suffering and loss of life, population movements and further entrenched inequality. These impacts are already emerging,” the organizations jointly wrote.
In other parts of the world, conditions were similarly dry last summer.
A preliminary report released in August by the European Commission found that the 2022 drought in Europe was the worst in 500 years. Many regions have been affected by drought since the beginning of the year, exacerbated by drier than usual conditions during the summer and a series of heat waves from June to October.
In August, almost two-thirds of the European continent was on alert or on drought alert, according to the report. Low rainfall during the summer months and persistent drought conditions have added stress to summer harvests in parts of Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Portugal and Hungary.
In Italy, rivers and lakes dried up during the summer. Large stretches of the country’s longest river, the River Po, dried up completely, forcing authorities to declare a state of emergency in five northern regions in July.
Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, also fell to historic lows during the summer. Lake water was diverted to local rivers to help farmers across the country’s arid north, leaving Lake Garda 12.6 inches above the water table, which approached the lowest levels recorded in 2003 and in 2007.
Streams in other parts of Europe have been similarly affected by drought and extreme heat. In August, the Serbian Danube narrowed to one of its lowest levels in nearly a century. France’s Loire River also dropped to historically low levels over the summer due to record drought in the country.
Parts of North America, such as the western United States, have been in the grip of a severe drought this year. Dry conditions have fueled dangerous wildfires in Arizona, Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington state.
A study published in February in the journal Nature Climate Change found that ongoing “megasdrought” conditions in the southwestern United States, which have persisted for the past 22 years, are the worst since at least 800 AD.
The country’s major bodies of water fell to alarming lows in 2022. In June, water levels in Lake Mead, which is created on the Colorado River on the Arizona-Nevada border, fell to their lowest levels since the lake it was filled in in the 1930s. Historic low water levels have huge implications for water supply and hydroelectric power generation for millions of people in Arizona, California, Nevada and parts of Mexico.
Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the United States, has been similarly hit by an intense drought, with its water dropping to its lowest levels since it was filled in the mid-1960s, according to the NASA Earth Observatory.
The drop in Lake Mead’s water level also had unexpected consequences: In May, two sets of human remains were discovered due to the receding shoreline of the reservoir.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com