In this study, an integrated approach involving multiple standardized indicators and hydrological modeling (Soil and Water Assessment Tool, SWAT) was evaluated to reconstruct and characterize meteorological, agricultural and hydrological droughts in Upper Kafue River Basin of Zambia during 1984–2013. Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) and Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) were used to identify meteorological droughts. Standardized Soil Moisture Index (SSI) was applied to characterize agricultural droughts and Standardized Runoff Index (SRI) was calculated to illustrate hydrological droughts. Input data for SRI and SSI computation was obtained from SWAT model which simulated daily and monthly runoff well with Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE) and coefficient of determination (R2
) greater than 0.65. The results showed that: (1) all indices were able to detect temporal variability of major drought events in a humid subtropical basin in Southern Africa; (2) SWAT successfully simulated runoff and soil moisture although soil moisture requires further calibration to increase accuracy; (3) the average duration and intensity for meteorological droughts at three-month time scale were lower but frequencies were higher compared to agricultural and hydrological droughts at 3- and 12-month aggregates; and (4) drought events exhibited a negative trend as evaluated by Mann–Kendall on SPEI, indicating an increase in drought severity, and correlation analysis between SPEI and SRI revealed that SPEI at 9–15 months has a strong link with hydrological conditions. This study showed that a comprehensive assessment of droughts by integrating multiple variables provided a versatile tool for drought monitoring and mitigation.
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