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Press Release 98/22




Damascus, 24 March - Dr. Jacques Diouf, The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) warned this morning, in his statement to the 24th FAO Regional Conference for the Near East, against the widening food gap facing the Near East Region since 1990 where net cereal imports may reach an alarming 71% increase in the next 12 years.

" Net cereal imports in the [Near East] Region placed at 44 million tons in 1988-90 are expected to reach 75.5 million tons by the year 2010" Dr. Diouf said. " The high cost of food imports combined with the loss of income from commodity exports as a result of falling prices and increasing debt burden, have caused serious problems for many low-income food-deficit countries [in the Region] and slowed their progress towards the achievement of food security. In Iraq, while the food supply situation has improved with the implementation of the oil-for-food agreement, malnutrition remains a serious concern."

Addressing Ministers of Agriculture and Senior Officials from the Region's 29 Member Nations gathered here since the 21st of this month, Dr. Diouf stated, "FAO's activities in the previous biennium were marked by the World Food Summit held in November 1996 and several initiatives have now been undertaken to implement the resulting Plan of Action."

The World Food Summit Plan of Action, adopted by 186 countries, called on the international community, governments, the private sector and civil society to work together with FAO and other development agencies to at least cut by half the number of today's 800 million chronically hungry people in the world, by the year 2015.

He added, " 150 national strategies for agriculture and food security towards the year 2010 have been drafted with the governments of developing Member Nations and others in transition, including all the countries of the Near East Region; the Special Program for Food Security [targeting rural poor communities] is now operational in 30 countries, including 4 in the Near East, and under formulation in 40 others, including 6 in the Near East; and the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information Mapping System has been established."

Furthermore, "two FAO programs, namely the Emergency Prevention System for Transboundary Animal and Plant Pests Diseases and the Regional Animal Disease Surveillance and Control Network are making noticeable contributions in the Near East region in the prevention and control of pests and animal diseases". Dr. Diouf added, " it is with concern that I inform you of an outbreak of the Old World screw Worm in Iraq ... FAO, in response to a request from the Government of Iraq, provided emergency advice as well as insecticides, technical assistance and training. Control operations will continue with funds provided by the Netherlands."

In accordance with the directives of the Summit, Dr. Diouf said, " FAO has also encouraged the launching of Food for All campaigns to mobilize civil society. The Telefood 1997 operation that was broadcast by some 100 television channels in over 70 countries gave 500 million viewers an added insight into the problems of hunger and malnutrition and laid the foundations of a system for raising funds which - already this year - will finance small projects of direct assistance to rural communities in developing countries, helping them boost agricultural production. The next edition will be launched from 16 to 18 October 1998 and will be larger in scale than last year".

He also touched on the problem of water scarcity in the Near East. Against projections indicating that by year 2025, the per capita availability of renewable water for most countries in the Region will fall below 700 cubic meters compared with a global average of 4780 cubic meters per person that year, Mr. Diouf said, " the high variation of rainfall subjects many areas of the Region to great risks and insecure food production. In 10 countries of the Region, water use exceeds 100 percent of their renewable resources, and water quality problems plague another ten. Since almost all easily accessible conventional water resources have now been committed, the emphasis in the future must be directed towards the efficient use of water".

Highlighting the importance of Regional cooperation Dr. Diouf said, " many common and technical problems faced by individual countries of the Region could better be solved by joining efforts. The strengthening or establishment by FAO of Regional and Sub-regional offices is meant to foster and develop this kind of regional cooperation. Now with the sprouting interest in regional economic and technical cooperation within the Near East Region, there seem to be an opportunity for strengthening collaboration among Member Nations and with regional and national funding institutions." He went on to say, " the Organization stands ready within its mandate and fields of competence, to support any new form of regional cooperation to promote the agricultural development and food production processes."

Dr. Diouf added, "One of FAO's ongoing concerns is to promote investment in agriculture. During the last 3 years, the Investment Center [of FAO] has prepared investment projects in the Near East Region for a total value of US $ 756 million, including US $ 370 million from external funds." In addition, " FAO's Technical Co-operation Program continues to act as strong catalyst on account of its defining characteristics of rapid approval, limited project duration, low costs and practical orientation. A total of 63 new projects [in agriculture and rural development] were implemented in the Near East Region in 1996-97."






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