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COMBATING DROUGHT, A TOP-PRIORITY FOR NEAR EAST COUNTRIES, FAO SAYS

FAO Press Release 02/25


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FAO Regional Conferences 2002

Tehran/Rome, 9 March 2002. - Combating drought, a top-priority for the Near East, requires greater awareness at the highest level of governments and national action plans for drought mitigation and management, says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at its 26th Regional Conference for the Near East which opened today in Tehran.

Awareness and preparedness are key elements for drought mitigation and management. FAO calls on governments of Near East countries to formulate, adopt and implement national policies and programmes for enhancing food production and improving food security during drought. It adds that while such efforts are essential for the fight against drought, regional and international cooperation is also needed as a follow-up to the International Convention on Combating Desertification and Drought (June 1994).

The FAO also calls on Near East governments to establish a "Drought Watch and Early Warning System"and to support a recently launched Drought Information Network for the Near East and the Mediterranean.

In the fight against drought, the UN specialized agency stresses the need to adopt a "participatory approach" by closely involving communities at grass-root level, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), women and youth, in the formulation and the implementation of national policies and programmes.

In recent years, the FAO has launched several initiatives to help Near East countries fight drought and desertification. They include its Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in Low Income Food-Deficit Countries, its Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS), a National Forests Action Programme, and an International Scheme for Water and Sustainable Agriculture.

During the last 20 years, many countries of the FAO Near East Region, which includes 29 States extending from the Atlantic Ocean to Central Asia, have experienced long-term droughts, sometimes lasting more than a year. Most affected were Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria and Sudan.

Successive droughts had devastating consequences on plant, animal and human lives in several Near East countries. Drought, land degradation and desertification trigger famine, poverty, civil unrest and sometimes war. They affect people's livelihood by reducing food production, decreasing purchasing power, and increasing the number of internally-displaced people and refugees who become dependent on international assistance, FAO says.

Droughts also seriously affected ecosystems and biodiversity. For example, in the Islamic Republic of Iran, many internationally known wetlands and lakes, such as the Hamoun wetland, became completely dry. In Sudan, traditional and indigenous crop varieties, which constitute the staple food for people in dry regions, were threatened by extinction.

Some 70 percent of the agricultural areas in the Near East Region are arid or semi-arid. Only 20 percent of the total lands are cultivable. The most serious challenge to agriculture is water scarcity: average annual rainfall is 205 mm and while the Region covers 14 percent of the world's surface, its water resources represent only 2 percent of the total internal renewable water resources of the world, says FAO.

Among 21 countries that have been declared water-scarce, 12 are in the Near East region and many of them are Mediterranean countries, according to a recent study by the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage (IPTRID) in collaboration with FAO. "Despite water shortages, misuse of water is widespread and farmers use large amounts of water poorly," the study says.

However, many countries have developed solid knowledge at the local level of efficient ways to reduce water demand, the report says. A case study on Jordan shows that the use of improved drip irrigation saved 20-50 percent of water, increasing cucumber and tomato crop yields by 15-20 percent. In Morocco, new irrigation technology (laser-levelled basin irrigation) resulted in water savings of 20 percent and cereal crop-yield increases of 30 percent. "Poor implementation and management, however, have seriously limited expected water savings and increased productivity," according to the IPTRID study.


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