Worst drought in decades decimates cereal crops in Jordan
Severe drought that cut rainfall in Jordan by up to 70 percent has left the country facing its worst cereal harvests in more than 40 years. An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission that visited Jordan in April/May 1999 said that "the unprecedented drought could not have come at a worse time".
Unemployment in Jordan is officially estimated at 25 percent. The UN trade embargo on Iraq and the loss of vital Saudi Arabian-Gulf States markets for goods and services in the wake of the Gulf War, have reduced exports and dampened investment in the production sectors. The fall in foreign currency revenues and heavy foreign debt repayments mean that the country's capacity for commercial imports is severely limited.
The FAO/WFP Mission has forecast the lowest domestic cereal harvest ever recorded, at 13 000 tonnes. This will cover 0.6 percent of the country's cereal needs, against the 10 percent usually expected. The Mission warned that, "Food security prospects are likely to worsen as production falls, economic problems intensify and unemployment rises to unprecedented levels".
Rainfed fruit production is severely reduced and rainfed vegetable production is virtually nil this year. Irrigated vegetable harvests are down 23 percent from last year. The livestock sector has been hit just as hard. Domestic production of red meat and milk is about 40 percent below usual levels. Sheep and goat farmers are suffering heavy losses and will have to depend almost entirely on imported barley and straw for the coming year. In addition to this, an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease has caused further losses and more disease outbreaks are expected.
The Mission expressed particular concern about some 180 000 drought-affected people, including smallholders who have lost their harvests and their inputs, small-scale herders and landless rural households. They will require an estimated 14 400 tonnes of wheat and 1 300 tonnes of pulses in emergency food assistance for a period of eight months.
Jordan is already one of the world's most water-scarce countries - with 75 percent of the country desert or semi-desert. There are few natural resources, and less than 10 percent of the land is agricultural. Now it is facing increasing deterioration in the quantity and quality of its water resources.
3 June 1999