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IV. Near East and North Africa


General economic performance

The Near East and North Africa region recorded real GDP growth of 5.9 percent in 2000, a strong recovery from the 1.1 percent seen in 1999 and well above the 1993-99 average of 3.3 percent.83 The improved economic performance was largely based on the substantial increase in oil prices, the main economic factor for many countries in the region. Projections indicate real GDP growth of 1.8 percent in 2001. The deterioration in the overall economic conditions in the region in 2001 is largely a result of the sharp slowdown in world economic growth with its concomitant adverse effect on demand for oil and hence oil prices.

The Near East and North Africa region saw real GDP increase by 5.9 percent in 2000, largely a result of higher oil prices.

The events of 11 September have further undermined oil prices as well as prices of most non-fuel commodities. Oil-exporting countries are expected to be affected the most. However, the impact will be cushioned in a number of countries, in particular in the Near East, by the relatively conservative economic policies followed when oil prices were high. Increasing regional security concerns have contributed to a downturn in tourism, which is of particular importance for Egypt and Jordan.

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, GDP growth fell back slightly from 5.8 percent in 2000 to 5 percent in 2001. Improved agricultural production following a long-term drought, the strong performance of the construction and manufacturing sectors and an upturn in domestic demand are all expected to support economic growth in 2002.

Saudi Arabia experienced robust economic growth of 4.5 percent in 2000, but this is expected to slow to only 2.3 percent in 2001. A further slowdown, to just over 1.5 percent, is expected for 2002. The country is applying expenditure restraints to mitigate the effects of the oil price fluctuations and to reduce the high domestic debt.

The slowdown in world economic growth and the events of 11 September have led to weakened regional growth, projected at 1.8 percent for 2001.

Algeria, another oil-producing country, saw real GDP expand by 2.4 percent in 2000, and for 2001 growth of 3.6 percent is anticipated. An oil stabilization fund built up during the period of high oil prices will help cushion the downturn and growth is expected to be relatively well sustained at around 3.5 percent in 2002.

GDP growth in Morocco reached only 0.8 percent in 2000. A major factor behind this low figure was the negative effects of adverse climatic conditions on agricultural performance. Growth in 2001 is estimated to have reached 6.1 percent and for 2002 the projections are 4.4 percent growth in real GDP.

In Egypt, real GDP growth has slowed from 5.1 percent in 2000 to a projected 3.3 percent in 2001. A 25 percent depreciation of the currency since mid-2000 and the EU-Egypt Free Trade Agreement of mid-2001 are expected to stimulate the traded goods sector.

For the Eastern Mediterranean countries of Jordan, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, economic growth is projected to be somewhat lower than in the Near East and North Africa region as a whole, partly on account of the difficult security situation.

The Turkish economy rebounded from its 4.7 percent contraction in 1999. Growth in 2000 was 7.2 percent in real terms. For 2001, however, real GDP is again expected to shrink by 6.1 percent. Private consumption84 and fixed investment expenditure collapsed owing to the uncertain policy outlook in the aftermath of the devaluation. These trends have been exacerbated by the knock-on effects of the attacks on the global economy. The economy is expected to pick up in 2002, with growth reaching a projected 4 percent.

Drought severely affected agricultural production in the region, with output stagnating in 2000 after contracting the previous year. Many countries continued to experience drought conditions in 2001.

Agricultural performance

The dominant factor affecting agriculture in the region for the year 2000 was drought. Agricultural production stagnated after recording a 4.2 percent contraction in 1999. Cereal output fell for the second consecutive year. Many countries continued to experience drought conditions also in 2001, for the third consecutive year in many cases, and agricultural production is estimated to have shrunk by nearly 2 percent. The outcome would be worse, but for the buffering effect of irrigation in the region.

In North Africa, agricultural production rose by only 0.7 percent in 2000 after seeing output rise by 7.1 and 2 percent in 1998 and 1999, respectively. Crop production fell by 0.7 percent, with cereal output down by 9.7 percent - the second consecutive drop. However, livestock output rose by 2.4 percent. Projections for 2001 suggest a modest rise in agricultural output of 0.7 percent. While crop production is projected to see a rise of 0.8 percent, cereal production is expected to rise sharply by 11.4 percent.

Agricultural output in Morocco fell by 3.7 percent in 2000 after a decline of 10.5 percent in the previous year. Drought conditions severely hampered cereal production, which experienced a further 51.8 percent decline after dropping by 46.7 percent in 1999. Agricultural production stagnated in the 1990s largely because of the dominance of drought-sensitive crops such as cereals and the increased incidence of drought. The country experienced six droughts in the 1990-2000 period. Projections for 2001 show an increase in output of close to 5 percent in 2001, with aggregate cereal output having more than doubled compared with the level achieved in 2000.

In 2000, agricultural production in Algeria fell by 4.7 percent. Cereal production contracted by 61 percent following a 36 percent drop in 1999. For 2001, agricultural output growth of almost 9 percent is expected. The 2001 aggregate cereal output is estimated at 2.6 million tonnes compared with 0.9 million tonnes harvested in 2000 and with the past five-year average of 2.3 million tonnes.

Also in Tunisia, the agriculture sector was adversely affected by relatively severe drought conditions in 2000, and overall agricultural output declined by 4.9 percent. Cereal production fell by 42 percent, while livestock production increased by a modest 1.7 percent. In 2001, a further decline in agricultural output of about 8.7 percent is projected. With regard to cereals, however, official estimates put production in 2001 at 1.35 million tonnes, or 24 percent above the 2000 level. By contrast, olive production, which accounts for one-third of agricultural land, was at the lowest level for over 20 years. The harvest in 2001-02 was more than 50 percent below that of the previous year.

Agricultural production in Egypt grew by 4.4 percent in 2000 after expanding by 6.5 percent in 1999. Cereal production rose by 3.7 percent after expanding by 10.3 percent in 1999. In Egypt, nearly 100 percent of food production depends on the Nile and groundwater; hence it is more insulated from the effect of drought. However, for 2001 a contraction of 1.1 percent in agricultural output is expected. Cereal output is projected to fall by 6 percent.

The countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)85 saw agricultural production decline by 1 percent in 2000. Crop production fell by 1.7 percent, with cereal output in particular contracting by 10 percent. Livestock output rose modestly by 0.8 percent. For 2001, projections show agricultural output rising by about 1.3 percent, with crop output stagnating but livestock production rising by 1.9 percent.

Cracked earth because of drought
The Near East and North Africa region is characterized by low and variable rainfall. Drought is a recurrent phenomenon in large parts of the region.

- FAO/18027/I. BALDERI

In the Near East in Asia subregion (excluding the GCC countries), agricultural production fell by 0.3 percent in 2000 after contracting by 7 percent in 1999. Crop production stagnated and livestock output fell by 1.3 percent. Projections for 2001 show output contracting by a further 3.2 percent, with crop and livestock production falling by 4.4 and 1.3 percent, respectively.

Agricultural production in Turkey contracted by 0.8 percent in 2000 after falling by 5.2 percent in 1999. However, cereal production increased by almost 8 percent after declining by 23 percent in 1999. Another relatively poor year is expected in 2001, with a further decline in agricultural output of 1.1 percent and cereal production expected to contract by 9 percent.

In Jordan, drought in 1998, 1999 and 2000 has severely affected the country's agricultural output. Although agricultural output recovered a little in 2000 with respect to 1999, a further decline of about 6 percent is expected in 2001.

Very productive land is also very vulnerable to drought, and careful soil management is needed to avoid possibly irreversible damage.

As a consequence of continued drought conditions, Iran has seen agricultural output decline by a further 0.3 percent in 2000 after a decline of 6.3 percent in the previous year. Drought has continued to affect agriculture in 2001, with output anticipated to fall by about 8.5 percent. Cereal output is estimated to have declined even further, to 11.9 million tonnes, the lowest level in more than a decade. Three years of extreme drought have adversely affected about 90 percent of the rural, urban and nomadic population. It is estimated that 200 000 nomadic livestock owners have lost their only source of livelihood. In addition to a nationwide drought, heavy torrential rains during August 2001 devastated rice, cotton and wheat production areas and damaged thousands of hectares of farmland in the northern provinces of Iran.

Table 26












3.8 1.1 5.1 3.2 2.4 3.6 3.4


5.0 5.3 5.7 6.0 5.1 3.3 3.3

Islamic Republic of Iran

5.9 2.7 3.7 3.1 5.8 5.0 4.8


12.2 -2.2 6.8 -0.7 0.8 6.1 4.4

Saudi Arabia

1.4 2.0 1.7 -0.8 4.5 2.3 1.6


6.9 7.6 3.1 -4.7 7.2 -6.1 4.1

Near East and


North Africa2

5.1 5.1 4.1 1.1 5.9 1.8 3.9

1 Projections.

2 Including Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iraq, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malta, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and Yemen.

Source: IMF. 2001. World Economic Outlook, December. Washington, DC.

Table 27











3.3 3.3 3.7 3.4 2.9 3.1


-2.7 -12.1 -6.4 -3.3 6.0 8.2


9.0 16.8 11.0 9.8 3.3 -2.1


-4.2 -17.7 -6.4 -4.3 1.7 -1.8


0.0 -6.1 -0.2 -0.1 0.0 1.8


-1.9 2.8 -2.6 -1.9 -0.4 -1.7

1 Preliminary.

Source: FAOSTAT.


The Near East and North Africa region is a vast zone of generally diverse climatic conditions, characterized by very low and highly variable annual rainfall and a high degree of aridity. In the past, the rivers have laid down deep, alluvial fertile soils and have supported several of the earliest irrigation societies and civilizations. However, very productive land is also extremely vulnerable to drought if mismanaged, leading to irreversible damage, such as desertification. This process differs from drought but represents the ultimate consequence of it if no adequate measures are taken in time. The general problem of water scarcity in the region and the critical role of proper water resource management and irrigation development were discussed in the 2001 edition of The State of Food and Agriculture.86 This section discusses more specifically the impact of drought and the importance of drought preparedness.

Drought should be seen as a risk-management process with emphasis on monitoring and managing emerging stress conditions and other hazards associated with climate variability.

Box 8


Two decades of conflict have reduced Afghanistan to one of the world's most impoverished nations. The economy is in a very poor state. There is no macroeconomic framework; transportation and communication facilities are very poor; no banks are operating in the country and the manufacturing and export sectors have become marginal operations.

Agriculture is the mainstay of the country's economy but after two decades of war and civil strife much of the agricultural infrastructure is damaged and in urgent need of rehabilitation. The area harvested for cereals is much smaller today than it was in 1978. Moreover, the country has experienced severe drought in parts of the country in 1999, 2000 and 2001, making the current food security situation extremely precarious. The FAO/World Food Programme (WFP) Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission of May 2001 found mounting evidence of emerging widespread famine conditions.1 At the beginning of 2002, WFP was assisting about six million people in Afghanistan.2

For 2001, the estimated cereal output of 2 million tonnes implied a cereal import requirement of about 2.2 million tonnes, close to the very high level of the previous year. The outlook for the 2002 wheat crop (to be harvested in May 2002) is poor, with cereal production expected to decline further, aggravating an already grave food supply situation.

The livestock sector has also been severely affected by three years of consecutive drought and the ongoing conflict. A lack of grazing land, the disruption of traditional grazing routes and a shortage of veterinary services are having catastrophic consequences, especially for Afghanistan's nomadic population, the Kuchi.

The years of war and civil strife have led to a neglect of the irrigation infrastructure and it is estimated that about one-half of the irrigated area has fallen into disuse. Traditional irrigation in Afghanistan consists of surface and groundwater systems using simple diversion and extracting techniques that supply water for irrigation and domestic use to households at the community level. This type of irrigation is the main source of water for much of the nation's cereal cultivation. Twenty-three years ago, the total irrigated area was about 2.7 million ha, of which about 2.3 million ha would have been classified as being covered by traditional irrigation systems. It is estimated that about 50 percent of the 2.3 million ha require rehabilitation and this action may be the shortest route to reducing food insecurity nationwide. Among other factors, repairing much of the structure would be relatively simple; the impact on food production would be immediate; and rehabilitation could serve as a significant source of employment internally and for the returning refugees. It is likely that this relatively low-cost investment with a short gestation period would be an effective channel by which food aid could be used to renew productive assets.

Increased domestic production of cereals will depend not only on rehabilitation of the irrigation system, but also on improving the supply of vital inputs, increasing the availability of draught power and the strengthening of extension services.

Agriculture must be the key sector in any strategy to improve food security and livelihoods in both the near and longer term. Increased cereal production is essential for improved food security. Livestock is an important source of food and draught power, and the livestock and horticulture sectors both have substantial export potential. Improved water harvesting and conservation and, very importantly, the rehabilitation of the traditional irrigation systems are the cornerstones on which to base a programme to improve food security and to build sustainable livelihoods.

1 FAO. 2001. Afghanistan: special alert. GIEWS Report No. 318, September. Rome (available at
2 WFP news release, 5 February 2002.

Drought - a structurally recurrent phenomenon in the region

The causes of drought in the region are very complex. Contrasting geographic locations and topographic variations (seaside, mountains, hills, flat lands, desert), with their oceanic or continental influences, exposure to western and eastern wind systems and exposure to the Azores' atmospheric pressure systems, are among the physical determinants that explain the spatial scale and intensity of droughts in the region. On the other hand, demographic pressures have led to widespread ecosystem degradation over recent decades and have exacerbated the region's vulnerability to drought through increased cultivation of marginal and fragile arid lands, soil erosion, runoff and desertification.

Historical evidence corroborated by tree-ring studies in North Africa clearly indicates that drought is a structurally recurrent phenomenon in this part of the Mediterranean region. In Tunisia, drought episodes have been traced back to the year 707 and in the period 1907-97 alone 23 dry years were observed. In Morocco, the number of drought episodes over 1 000 years as revealed by tree-ring evaluation varied from century to century around an average of 22 dry years per century.87

Of the 22 drought years in the twentieth century, ten occurred during the last two decades and included the three successive dry years of 1999, 2000 and 2001.

Drought is a recurrent phenomenon in the Near East and North Africa region. Some analysts believe that the frequency and severity of drought have increased, although the evidence for this is not yet conclusive.

Drought is also a recurring event in the Near East. Jordan, for example, is predominantly arid and has experienced chronic water shortages and suffered from severe shortages since the 1960s. The recent droughts in Afghanistan, Iran, Jordan, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic and the West Bank and Gaza Strip were the worst ever recorded in decades. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports confirm some global warming in the region and forecast more over the next century, but past changes in rainfall patterns and future predictions are not well established.88

Water shortage is already the main constraint in most countries of the region, and IPCC model simulations indicate that the water scarcity may worsen substantially as a result of future changes in climatic patterns.89 Climate change, drought and desertification are interrelated but the concepts cannot be used interchangeably to address the complex issues of drought and water management in this region.

Water and land resource issues

Typically, heavy reliance on surface and groundwater prevails in all countries of the region, with 60-90 percent of water being used for agriculture. All over the region, water demand is steadily increasing while water supply is steadily decreasing. This is happening in the context of conflicting pressures from the domestic, agriculture, industrial and tourism sectors. The question of how to balance the water equation remains a big challenge for decision-makers.

Table 28


Number of droughts















Source: J. Morton and C. Sear. 2001. Challenges for drought management in West Asia and North Africa. Paper prepared for the Ministerial Meeting on Opportunities for Sustainable Investment in Rainfed Areas of West Asia and North Africa, Rabat, Morocco, 25-26 June 2001.

The topic of renewable freshwater resources and water management in the region was previously addressed in The State of Food and Agriculture 2001.90 Available data confirm that at least ten countries in the region were already experiencing severe water shortages in 1995.91 Jordan, Kuwait, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have less than 200 m3/person/year to meet their domestic requirements. The projections show that Algeria and Tunisia will join this group by 2025, while Egypt, Morocco and the Syrian Arab Republic are expected to experience severe water shortages by 2050. By 2025 only Iraq and Turkey are expected to be relatively better off.92

Three years of drought have severely affected at least 40 percent of the region's livestock populations.

Impact of recent droughts on crop and livestock production

Following the recovery in 1998, three years of drought in many countries of the region have led to a sharp drop in agricultural output (see previous section). Crop production, particularly cereal production, has been severely affected.

The drought has also had a detrimental impact on livestock populations and productivity in the region. Livestock accounts for between 30 and 50 percent of total agricultural GDP and is a significant factor in sustaining the livelihoods of many rural dwellers. Large livestock losses therefore have a direct and severe impact on household food security, especially of the rural populations who live in remote and inaccessible areas and who are most vulnerable to drought. Over the last three years, drought is estimated to have affected at least 40 percent of the region's livestock populations. Heavy losses due to animal mortality, production losses and distress sales of animals have been widely reported in most countries. The effect will probably continue to be felt beyond 2002 as the situation has been aggravated by the cumulative effect of consecutive droughts.

The severe droughts have had a devastating effect on range vegetation, as well as on the availability of feed from grain and crop residues. Consequently, resource-poor farmers are often faced with purchasing feed at the expense of household consumption. The drastic fall in feed availability has already led to widespread distress sales of livestock, saturating the markets and leading to a sharp drop in prices. Average prices of live sheep tumbled by more than 50 percent between 1999 and 2000. Similar drops have been observed in almost all countries of the region, reflecting expectations of continued drought and a steep fall in disposable income.

Three years of drought have worsened rural poverty and increased rural-urban migration.

Impact on population livelihood, household income and rural poverty

Available information indicates that the incidence of poverty in the region increased significantly towards the end of the decade. In particular, the proportion living on below $2 per day increased from 25 percent to 30 percent of the population, a development attributable to increases in Egypt, Morocco and Yemen.93

The most vulnerable and seriously affected social groups were dryland farmers (including cereal producers), olive and fruit growers and sheep herders. Farmers' and herders' communities suffered severe loss of income through the loss of harvests, partial loss of flocks, low animal production yields and weak market prices. As a consequence of three successive dry years, many herders and farmers in the region found it necessary to purchase supplementary animal feed, water and treatments and other agricultural inputs, leading to increasing indebtedness.

The impact of drought on disposable household income is difficult to assess because of the limited availability of accurate data. Information gained from field surveys of large and small farms in a semi-arid cereal and livestock-producing area of Morocco is summarized in Table 29. The surveys were conducted in the same farming communities over two consecutive years: the first period was exceptionally dry (1992-93) and the second was considered to be a good wet year (1993-94). The results indicate that regardless of farm size, household income varied substantially: from a secure high level during the wet year to an insecure low level during the dry year. Drought had a severe impact on many households' incomes through complete crop failure and limited livestock earnings. Off-farm activities were among the most common coping mechanisms adopted by households, as would be the case in most parts of the region. The data on total expenditure on the other hand show that in a dry year households tend to allocate a higher proportion of expenditure to meeting farm operational production costs at the expense of their own members' consumption needs.

Table 29


Farm size


Small (< 5 ha)

Large (20-50 ha)


Wet year

Dry year

Wet year

Dry year



Household income

2 186 933 8 984 1 777

On-farm income

1 633 115 6 824 -111


420 -105 3 134 -510


1 213 220 1 850 399

Off-farm income

553 818 2 060 1 888

Household expenditure

2 240 1 960 5 980 5 910

Crops and livestock

300 830 2 860 3 830

Family consumption

1 940 1 130 3 120 2 080

Source: IAV Hassan II field surveys during 1992-93 dry year and 1993-94 wet year; IFAD. 1999. Final Evaluation Report, Integrated Rural Development Project of Abda-Ahmar (Safi region, Morocco). Rome, IFAD and Rabat, Ministry of Agriculture.

Impact on the environment

The region's irrigation systems are under considerable environmental strain, with almost all countries experiencing problems with salinity and waterlogging. A further cause for concern is the overexploitation of groundwater, particularly, but not only, in the countries of the GCC. In view of the fact that water is practically cost-free in most of the countries, the sustainability of irrigation systems is a major concern.

Degradation of natural resources is especially serious in the low rainfall areas that represent over 70 percent of the total rangelands in the region. For the nomadic population, their incomes depend directly on the rangelands' quality and quantity. In normal years, animals were kept on the rangeland for eight months and then fed for the remaining four. With prevailing drought conditions, which mean that there is a lack of forage and drinking water in large parts of the rangelands, livestock are fed for most of the year. Large numbers of farmers and herders have migrated from their villages to search for water and livestock feed. This phenomenon requires immediate attention to prevent major population displacements and further environmental degradation.

Water scarcity is placing substantial strains on the environment, causing damage to the region's biological diversity.

The long period of drought has caused significant damage to the environment and to the region's biological diversity, including both animal and plant species. Wildlife has been severely affected as a result of the shortage of drinking water, lack of feed, dried wetlands and degradation of wildlife habitats. For instance, in the Hamoun wetlands of Iran, which are of international importance, aquatic life has disappeared. Herbivores are among the first animal species to be affected by a lack of feed. Dryness of wetlands and natural lakes has also occurred in Morocco, as well as other countries of the region, causing similar and probably irreversible environmental damage. In Jordan, the continued drought during 1999 and 2000 caused visible damage to the natural and artificial forests that make up 20 and 30 percent of the total area, respectively.

Young farmer ploughing in an arid zone of Morocco
Drought can severely affect farm household incomes.

- FAO/18029/I. BALDERI

Government measures for drought prevention and relief of affected groups

Current drought management and mitigation interventions in the region consist mostly of short-term drought relief operations.

Although drought recurs relatively frequently in the region, drought management is mostly focused on short-term relief operations, implemented at considerable cost.

The types of policy governments in the region have implemented in response to the recent prolonged droughts are exemplified by the practical experiences from North Africa (Morocco), the Near East (Jordan) and West Asia (Iran) outlined below. For these three countries (as for most countries in the region), when a nationwide drought occurs the policy applied consists of establishing a national drought programme to be monitored by an intergovernmental committee (National Drought Task Force). Headed by the Ministry of Agriculture, this political decision-making body proposes a package of emergency measures to be implemented across the country. Regional and provincial drought committees also exist to monitor implementation of the centrally planned measures. To implement the proposed activities, funds are made available to ease the adverse impacts of the drought and to assist affected rural populations in solving the problems associated with (i) drinking water, (ii) livestock protection, (iii) creation of job opportunities and (iv) agricultural tax relaxation or debt relief.

In 2000/01 Morocco earmarked around $650 million for drought relief and mitigation activities, representing about one-third of its entire annual investment budget.

For the 2000 national drought relief programme in Morocco, the government earmarked around $650 million for drought relief and mitigation activities for the period April 2000 to July 2001. This important core fund accounted for one-third of the country's entire annual investment budget. The fund was disbursed to the various components as follows: 9.4 percent for drinking water, 19.4 percent for livestock feeding and sanitation, 60.5 percent to create jobs in rural areas, 4.5 percent to stabilize the market prices of cereal grains, 3.8 percent to limit forest degradation, 1.8 percent to cover agricultural credit forgiveness and the remaining 0.5 percent for communication and public awareness.94 With regard to the level of investment, the period of implementation and the preliminary results, the programme has been credited with relative success, although an effective evaluation of its real impact has yet to be carried out.95

In Jordan, government financial assistance for the 1999 drought relief programme was about $58 million and a similar amount was allocated in 2000. The estimated total production loss for 2000 was $160 million.96 The national drought mitigation programme focused on providing water and feed to sheep herders, supporting subsidized barley and feedstuff, flexibility in feed imports and the export of live animals and the introduction of mechanisms for delayed reimbursement and/or forgiveness of agricultural credits for the most affected communities. The government also distributed water and food aid to the nomadic population living in the driest area of the country, the steppe of Al-Baddia (Bedouins) and in similarly affected areas of other regions.

In Iran, drought-related crop and livestock production losses in 2001 are estimated at $2.6 billion.

The Government of Iran allocated about $138 million and $500 million in 2000 and 2001, respectively, to mitigate the effects of the ongoing drought. Half of the 2001 budget was allocated to the Agricultural Bank in order to provide loans to drought-mitigation projects focusing on, for example, on-farm soil and water conservation, water supply, maintenance of damaged traditional irrigation canals and watershed management. The other half was allocated to preparedness activities and to increase the capital of the Agricultural Product Insurance Funds. The approved budget for 2002 represents about 20 percent of the estimated losses inflicted in 2001 to crop and livestock production, which total around $2.6 billion.97

From reactive crisis management to proactive risk management in agriculture

Agriculture in the region is extremely sensitive to the large year-to-year climatic fluctuations. Although this climatic variability raises complex risk-management issues, many countries do not have a sustainable management policy to cope with these natural hazards. Irrigation and proper water-resource management has a vital role to play (as discussed in The State of Food and Agriculture 2001).

Countries with long-term drought-management policies are better able to deal with drought compared with countries that manage only the ensuing crisis.

In addition, experience elsewhere has shown that countries with long-term drought-management policies, like Australia, South Africa and some states of the United States, are generally better prepared to deal with drought than those that simply manage the ensuing crisis. Current new initiatives in the region directed towards such a strategy include the establishment in Morocco of the National Drought Observatory, located within the Ministry of Agriculture and working in close institutional collaboration with policy-makers and academics to develop a national drought policy plan. The aim of this initiative is to develop an institutional infrastructure that includes a drought early warning system and a delivery system for information to users and drought managers. A direct output will be to strengthen institutional capacity in drought early warning, monitoring and impact assessment.

A critical element of drought planning and mitigation in the region is the early detection of emerging drought and the timely and effective delivery of information to decision-makers. This requires continuous monitoring of climate and water-supply conditions within individual countries and also across countries within the region. It is within this context that initiatives have recently been taken to promote regional drought-preparedness networking efforts.

The concept of a global drought-preparedness network is an initiative that, with support from FAO and the World Meteorological Organization, could provide the opportunity for nations and regions to share experiences and lessons learned (successes and failures) through a virtual network of regional networks, using the World Wide Web as the information delivery system. An important element in such a global network would be FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System, which reports on regional food shortages and on emergency events, such as droughts, that may dramatically affect the food production system around the world.

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