In most countries of the region, governments have come to realize the shortcomings of their current responses to drought and have begun developing institutional arrangements for a shift from a crisis management approach to long-term drought management. The government of Morocco has recently established a National Drought Observatory (NDO), with the goal of collecting, analyzing, and delivering drought-related information in a timely manner (Ameziane, 2001). As part of its mandate, the NDO has to characterize drought, conduct vulnerability assessments, establish criteria for declaring drought and triggering mitigation and response activities, and establish procedures for evaluating the effectiveness of drought programs. The NDO is thus clearly a technical coordinating unit at the apex of a virtual structure composed of technical experts from different government administrations, dealing with different aspects of drought management through technical committees and working groups.
Syria has requested assistance from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to develop a national drought policy and strategy. The goal of the policy is to reduce vulnerability to drought, minimize drought impact, and facilitate postdrought recovery (Sweet, 2001). The FAO assistance will also help Syria specify how the policy will be implemented and translated into drought management plans for different ecological zones and livelihood systems.
In Tunisia the Ministry of Agriculture has developed detailed guidelines for drought management. The guidelines list a range of drought mitigation activities, which are specified according to drought stage (drought planning, management, and post-drought recovery), drought scenario (dry autumn, dry winter, dry spring, and dry year), and economic sector (Louati et al., 1999).
Regardless of the diversity of approaches, the governments of the Near East countries will need to consider the general experience gained elsewhere, which is that the institutional arrangements may determine the effectiveness of any drought monitoring system. The first requirement is to establish a multidisciplinary central drought management unit (CDMU), which has a legal status, a mandate, and its own core staff. Given the multi-institutional and multidisciplinary nature of drought management, the free flow of information is of critical importance. For this reason the CDMU would be most effective if housed in a coordinating ministry, such as a prime minister's or president's office, or a planning ministry, rather than a line ministry. This way it would have access to the multidisciplinary manpower and information sources in other ministries.
The international experience also indicates that countries can have excellent policies that are not implemented because there is no strategy or government mechanism to translate them into concrete action plans. Major responsibilities of the CDMU would be to develop or update policy to facilitate drought mitigation and ensure a linkage between drought policy and drought management strategies.
Under the general supervision of the CDMU, but not necessarily in the same ministry, a drought early warning unit needs to be established with a more technical character. This unit would compile and interpret all data required to monitor drought extent and impact and report through regular or special bulletins to the CDMU. The experience of international food security information systems, such as the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) or the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS; chapter 19), although not fully transferable in a drought and different economic context, may be useful to develop the specifications for national drought early warning systems in North Africa and West Asia.
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