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Millions of people seriously affected by drought in Near East and South Asia

The drought conditions that are devastating countries in northern and eastern Africa have also hit crops and livestock in several countries in the Near East and South Asia. FAO has issued a Special Alert for Afghanistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Pakistan and India.

"In addition to large livestock losses due to lack of water and feed, there are mounting concerns that the drought is now claiming a growing number of human lives, as water and food become scarce," the alert says.

In Afghanistan, large numbers of families who have lost their rainfed wheat crops are in urgent need of food assistance. Many of them have migrated to urban centres in search of food and water. Total cereal production for 1999 was about 16 percent down on the previous year, because of the severe drought and pest outbreaks. The country's cereal import requirement for the 1999/2000 marketing year is estimated at a record 1.1 million tonnes, and this year's drought will push it up even further.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, severe drought in 1999 cut wheat production by more than 3 million tonnes, or about 25 percent compared to the previous year. Official reports indicate that this year's drought may be more severe than last year's and its impact "is likely to be exacerbated by already low reserves in dams and reservoirs," the alert says. The outlook is also unfavourable for barley, which is very important for livestock production on which a large groups of the population depend.

In 1999/2000, Iran imported nearly 7 million tonnes of wheat, making it one of the largest wheat importers in the world. This year's imports threaten to be even larger. The Government recently approved an emergency aid package for US$183 million to assist drought-affected farmers.

In Iraq, the drought has severely reduced cultivated area and cut 2000 cereal harvests. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers are reported to have "dropped to about 20 percent of their average flow, seriously constraining irrigated production which constitutes more than 70 percent of cultivated area," the alert says. In addition to this, "serious shortages of essential agricultural inputs are also hindering normal production." In 1999, similar drought conditions and widespread pests and weeds reduced cereal output by nearly 40 percent compared to the average for the previous five years.

In Jordan, prospects for the wheat and barley harvests in May/June are poor because of a prolonged drought that delayed sowing. The severe drought in 1999 cut the aggregate wheat and barley harvest by 88 percent to a mere 13 000 tonnes. The livestock sector was also severely affected.

In Pakistan, drought has devastated Baluchistan province in the west and Sindh province in the south. A number of areas in these provinces "have not had appreciable rainfall in several years," the alert says. Reports indicate that several hundred people have died because of the drought. Several million livestock are in a precarious condition.

In India, several states have been hit by serious drought and thousands of livestock have died. In Gujarat, the worst drought in 100 years is affecting an estimated 10 million people, with more than half the 18 000 villages suffering severe water shortages. Most of the reservoirs in the north and western parts of the state are reported to have dried up and water levels in tubewells have dropped sharply. Large numbers of people and livestock are moving away from the worst affected areas.

Other states affected by the drought include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Fortunately, the alert reports that from a national perspective "the drought is not expected to affect overall food production significantly as many of the areas affected do not lie in main grain production zones." Also, government grain stocks are sizeable, following good harvests in recent years. Current estimates put stocks at 30 million tonnes, including 13.5 million tonnes of wheat.

12 May 2000

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