Are we following in the Footsteps of Mesopotamia the Ancient Mayans?

This week’s blog is written by Marilyn Hall, Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Coordinator

hydroillogical cycle

Here is the graphic for the Hydro-Illogical Cycle created in the 1990s.

Way back in the late 1990s the National Drought Mitigation Center created the “Hydro-Illogical Cycle”. It is a cute play on words from the water cycle that we all learned about in elementary school. The graphic shows how drought tends to emerge under the radar screen compared to other natural disasters.  In other words, tornadoes and tidal waves are more exciting to watch on YouTube that a developing drought. It is hard to even know when a drought begins and when it ends.  But when drought does finally end, people are often glad to forget about it and to resume business as usual. (Of course this is true of most natural disasters.)

The purpose of the graphic is to remind us that severe drought can sneak up on us at any time, so we need to think about drought preparation when we aren’t currently in a drought. People all over the globe have been suffering from the Apathy-Panic cycle for millenniums.  Here are a couple of examples.

Picture of a Cichlid school, Mystic Pool, Cara Blanca Pools, Belize

Cichlids swim in pool where ancient Mayans made sacrifices to their water god.

1) A “Mayan Drought Cult” developed after the Mayan’s suffered many years of drought.  Human sacrifices to Chaak, the Mayan water god, picked up after things started looking especially bleak.  Unfortunately for the Mayans it was too little too late.

2)  A New York Times from 1993 linked the demise of an ancient Mesopotamian empire to an unrelenting 300 year drought. Scientists were saying that it was “probably the first abrupt climate change in recorded history that caused major social upheaval…it raises some interesting questions about how volatile climate conditions can be and how well civilizations can adapt to abrupt crop failures.”

It took thousands of years for us to come up with the clever “hydro-illogical” graphic shown above.  I am ashamed to say that I have not thought about or presented the “Hydro-Illogical Cycle” in years.  In fact, I have not shown it during a presentation since the last big drought!

According to the graphic we are lucky to be napping happily in the Apathy stage here in Athens, GA. However, if you look at the National Drought Monitor many of the states out west are not so lucky. (I wonder who answers the phone when the little guy dials 911?) Here in Athens we are “between droughts” right now and the next one may be right around the corner. What can you do to avoid the panic?  Go to and learn about our upcoming workshops and sign up for our email list.  The Athens-Clarke County Water Conservation Office is working to make our County resilient to drought.  Contact us to find out how you can help!


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