Drought model: a deeper explanation (part 1)

Climate Change Earth - Australasia
Climate Change Earth - Australasia

Realigning drought models: an explanation of four stages


By Dr Tim Clune, Vic Hub Capacity Building Theme Lead, La Trobe University; Cam Nicholson, Vic Hub SW Node, Southern Farming Systems/Nicon Rural Services; and Te’o Lau Dr Viliamu Iese, Associate Director – Drought Resilience, Vic Hub


In this two-part blog series, we’ll look at how the Vic Hub is building drought resilience through building capacity. In part 1, we’ll explain why the Hub has reimagined the drought cycle into four phases.


Dr Tim Clune, Capacity Building
Dr Tim Clune, Vic Hub Capacity Building Theme Lead, La Trobe University

The Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub (Vic Hub) is tasked with building the resilience of Victorian farmers and communities to the impacts of drought.

Experience shows that the devastating effects on individuals and the social fabric of rural communities as businesses succumb to the impacts of drought.

Climate-change modelling suggest that these events will be more regular in the future, which means our capacity to understand the features of drought and manage the factors over which we have control is essential in building sustainable, resilient regional communities.

Resilience requires the building of both capacity and capability of Victorian farmers and communities to manage drought risks and impacts. This means ensuring that they have timely access to the resources to act prepare, cope and respond to drought, and that they also have the corresponding perceived ability to act.

Established with funds from the Australian Government under the Future Drought Fund (FDF), Vic Hub partners are working to identify opportunities to enhance both the resources available to regional farmers and communities and to enhance the knowledge, skills, capability and confidence of individuals and communities to engage with new technology and information in a manner that enhances their resilience to drought.

In this way, the Vic Hub is focusing on factors that will enable Victorian farmers and regional communities to become more resilient to future drought events.


Drought is a different type of hazard


Cam Nicholson
Cam Nicholson, Vic Hub SW Node, Southern Farming Systems/Nicon Rural Services

Drought differs from other natural hazards, such as fires and floods, in that its presence is felt incrementally, it is a creeping hazard. Despite its slow and measurable onset, drought manifests as a crisis for responders and government. So it makes sense to tackle drought with the same “emergency management” mindset.

Treating drought as potential crisis event gives the opportunity to apply business-resilience principles that provide a risk-based, systematic way of managing risks and impacts and supporting recovery. Known as the “PPRR” approach, these principles are:

  • P – Plan/Prevent (mitigate) – mitigating or eliminating the likelihood of events. A key element in mitigating the event’s effects is to recognise its likelihood to occur, and then identify factors that reduce the impacts. These involve actions to reduce the risks of the impacts occurring.
  • P – Prepare – actions taken in advance ensuring capability to cope with the effects of the event – including plans, training, relationships and so on, and should include an understanding of what needs to happen to respond and recover faster. These actions prepare the system to cope, respond and recover efficiently and effectively.
  • R – Respond – actions taken at the time of the event to minimise the effects until it’s resolved.
  • R – Recover – action to return to the operating capability that is better or similar to before the event (“build back better”) or recover and rebuild while preparing for the next event (“build forward better”).

A feature of the PPRR approach is that much of the stress of decision-making during the event can be reduced as a consequence of having planned and prepared for the event. (You can find more detail on that in these articles on Crisis Decision Theory: Decisions in the Face of Negative Events and conceptualising policy for sustainable agriculture development.)

Importantly, PPRR recognises that every agricultural business has its own aspirations, and empowering individuals and businesses to construct their own solutions.


Realigning the drought model


A key challenge with the PPRR approach is expressing it in a manner that accessible and understood by individuals and communities.

The Drought Cycle
Figure 1: The Four Stages of Drought
Source: https://vicdroughthub.org.au/resources/stages-of-drought

In delivering outcomes for farmers and communities, the Vic Hub has reimagined these PPRR principles to enable effective engagement and sharing of skills, knowledge and experience about the occurrence of drought, the impacts of drought, actions that have mitigated the broader effects of drought on farm businesses and actions that support a transition out of drought. All this has improved the capacity and capability of farming systems – including farmers – to reduce risks, absorbs impacts and build back/forward faster.

The four stages of drought (see Figure 1) acknowledge that drought is a risk that both must be understood within the local environment, and then how it impacts farming businesses and regional economies over time. This makes it a powerful tool, enabling communities to engage in meaningful – local – conversations that empower local decision-making.

A key point is that it provides a vehicle to acknowledge that seasonal uncertainty may not always deliver a drought, but it remains a distinct possibility.

In this way, the four-stage model helps apply risk-based principles in a way that matches the real-life, lived experiences of people and communities (refer to Table 1).


Table 1: Re-imagining business resilience for informed drought preparedness

Business resilience – Crisis management    4 stages of drought
Plan/mitigate  Good period
Prepare  Uncertain period
Respond  Drought period
Recover  Recovery


Teo Lau Dr Vili Iese
Te’o Lau Dr Vili Iese, Associate Director – Drought Resilience, Vic Hub

Redefining the drought cycle like this enables individuals and communities to reflect on the relative strengths and weaknesses of their situation and make decisions that meet their needs.

The Vic Hub actively consults farmers and communities across Victoria to understand their challenges. Using this input, the Hub identifies knowledge gaps and develops solutions to boost drought resilience.

By re-imagining the drought cycle, individuals and communities can better understand their situation and make decisions that suit them. Through its Nodes, the Vic Hub consults with farmers and communities to identify challenges and develop solutions for enhancing drought resilience.

Linking drought consideration with the PPRR framework allows for the use of emergency-management tools to enhance drought preparedness. For instance, adopting the “aide-mémoire” concept helps manage information overload and improve decision-making during stressful times. See Table 2. (According to the Macquarie dictionary, as it sounds, an “aide-mémoire” is simply a reminder.) In reality, this aide-mémoire would mirror each farm’s unique business and activities.

Table 2: An aide-mémoire for drought decision-making

Four stages of drought   Aide-mémoire
Good period
  • Am I making the most of the good conditions to protect my business against future downturns?
  • Do I have a plan to manage my business through a downturn?
Uncertain period
  • Have I put in place actions that will enable me to respond to a drought event?
  • Can I respond to an upturn in seasonal conditions?
  • Am I prepared if a drought eventuates?
  • What are the supporting mechanisms available to me to cope with the upcoming droughts (social network support, financing)
Drought period
  • Am I effectively implementing my plan?
  • Have there been any unexpected events I need to focus on?
  • Do I understand the impact of drought on my business?
  • Do I have a plan and the resources to regain my profitability and well- being?



Climate Change Earth - Australasia
Image credit: Spod


In Part 2, we’ll look at how an ‘emergency management’ lens increases decision-making effectiveness, and also give an example of aide-mémoire for a broadacre livestock enterprise.