Drought severity and impact assessments are necessary to effectively monitor droughts in semi-arid contexts. However, little is known about the influence land use-land cover (LULC) has—in terms of the differences in annual sizes and configurations—on drought effects. Coupling remote sensing and Geographic Information System techniques, drought evolution was assessed and mapped. During the growing season, drought severity and the effects on LULC were examined and whether these differed between areas of land change and persistence. This study used areas of economic importance to Botswana as case studies. Vegetation Condition Index, derived from Normalised Difference Vegetation Index time series for the growing seasons (2000–2018 in comparison to 2020–2021), was used to assess droughts for 17 constituencies (Botswana’s fourth administrative level) in the Central District of Botswana. Further analyses by LULC types and land change highlighted the vulnerability of both human and natural systems to drought. Identified drought periods in the time series correspond to declared drought years by the Botswana government. Drought severity (extreme, severe, moderate and mild) and the percentage of land areas affected varied in both space and time. The growing seasons of 2002–2003, 2003–2004 and 2015–2016 were the most drought-stricken in the entire time series, coinciding with the El Niño southern oscillation (ENSO). The lower-than-normal vegetation productivity during these growing seasons was evident from the analysis. With the above-normal vegetation productivity in the ongoing season (2020–2021), the results suggest the reversal of the negative vegetation trends observed in the preceding growing seasons. However, the extent of this reversal cannot be confidently ascertained with the season still ongoing. Relating drought severity and intensities to LULC and change in selected drought years revealed that most lands affected by extreme and severe drought (in descending order) were in tree-covered areas (forests and woodlands), grassland/rangelands and croplands. These LULC types were the most affected as extreme drought intersected vegetation productivity decline. The most impacted constituencies according to drought severity and the number of drought events were Mahalapye west (eight), Mahalapye east (seven) and Boteti west (seven). Other constituencies experienced between six and two drought events of varying durations throughout the time series. Since not all constituencies were affected similarly during declared droughts, studies such as this contribute to devising appropriate context-specific responses aimed at minimising drought impacts on social-ecological systems. The methodology utilised can apply to other drylands where climatic and socioeconomic contexts are similar to those of Botswana.
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