This is according to the latest joint study by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Launched at the 34th meeting of the ASEAN committee on disaster management, the study - ‘Ready for the dry years' - offers analysis on the principal risks in the region.
"The study is released against the backdrop of the ongoing drought in almost all countries in south-east Asia with social and economic impacts already being felt very strongly in Cambodia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam," the partners to the study note.
"The cumulative impacts of drought in the region strikes hardest at the poor and heightens inequality, as well as degrades land and increases the prospects of violent conflict.
"Droughts can also be particularly damaging in countries where many people rely on agriculture for primary employment (61% in Lao, 41% in Vietnam, 31% in Indonesia, 27% in Cambodia and 26% in the Philippines).
"Over the past 30 years, droughts have affected over 66 million people in the region. However, due to their slow-onset, droughts are often under-reported and under-monitored, resulting in conservative estimates on its impact in the region. The study points out that the future could be even worse. With climate change, many more areas are likely to experience extreme conditions with severe consequences."
UN official Armida Alisjahbana says that more dry years are inevitable, but more suffering is not.
"Timely interventions now can reduce the impacts of drought, protect the poorest communities and foster more harmonious societies," Alisjahbana said.
The report partners say that increasing resilience to drought will require much better forecasting and more efficient forms of response, at both national and regional levels. ‘Ready for the dry years' proposes three priority areas of intervention for ESCAP and ASEAN - strengthening drought risk assessment and early warning services, fostering risk financing instruments that can insure communities against slow-onset droughts and lastly, enhancing people's capacities to adapt to drought.
"The priority areas of intervention highlighted in this report will contribute to the development of policy responses to mitigate the impact of future drought and eventually will strengthen efforts on building the ASEAN Community that is resilient to drought," ASEAN secretary-general Dato Lim Jock Hoi said.