Drought is often a hidden risk with the potential to become a silent public health disaster. It is difficult to define precisely when it starts or when it is over, and although it is a climatological event, its impacts depend on other human activities, and are intensified by social vulnerability. In Brazil, half of all natural disaster events are drought related, and they cause half of the impacts in number of affected persons. One large affected area is the semiarid region of Brazil’s Northeast, which has historically been affected by drought. Many health and well-being indicators in this region are worse than the rest of the country, based on an analysis of 5565 municipalities using available census data for 1991, 2000 and 2010, which allowed separating the 1133 municipalities affected by drought in order to compare them with the rest of the country. Although great progress has been made in reducing social and economic vulnerability, climate change and the expected changes in the semiarid region in the next few decades call for a review of current programs, particularly in public health, and the planning of new interventions with local communities. This study reviews the literature, analyzes available data and identifies possible actions and actors. The aim is to ensure there will be sufficient and sustainable local adaptive capacity and resilience, for a population already living within the limits of environmental vulnerability.