Impact of Drought on Agriculture

The major crops of the Near East include cereals (wheat, barley, maize), potatoes, olives, sugarcane, sugar beets, fruits (especially citrus, grapes, and watermelons), cotton, and vegetables (especially onions). The relative importance of each of these crops is shown on a country basis in table 16.2. Of these crops, barley is one of the most important in the Near East because of its link with livestock production and its value for the economic exploitation of agriculturally marginal lands. It covered about 11 Mha (during 1995-2002), accounting for approximately 13% of the region's total cropland as calculated from the FAOSTAT on-line database (FAOSTAT, 2002;

Agricultural production in the region is strongly influenced by fluctuations in precipitation. To show the impact of weather on production in the region, barley is a suitable indicator crop because its production nearly always relies on rainfall. If rainfall is inadequate for grain formation, barley is not even harvested. Instead, its biomass is used for sheep grazing, thereby accentuating the swings in national production statistics.

An example of the absolute production fluctuations for barley in Morocco during the 1961-2000 period is shown in figure 16.4. The straight line represents the production trend. The relative scale of barley production fluctuations in the major producing countries of North Africa and West Asia is shown as a percentage deviation from the trend production in figures 16.5 and 16.6. Severe production fluctuations closely follow the precipitation fluctuations. An exception is Turkey, where the production fluctuations are more attenuated because the higher precipitation levels ensure that the failure of barley crop is unlikely even in drought years.

Reports of severe droughts are common in the Near East. Cullen and deMenocal (2000) reported droughts in Turkey during 1973, 1984, 1989, and 1990. Prolonged drought periods were also reported in Morocco during 1979-84 (Cullen and deMenocal, 2000) and 1994-95 (Zakaria, 2001). In Tunisia, droughts occurred during 1988-89 and 1994-95 (Louati et al., 1999). During the 1998-2000 period, both North Africa and West Asia experienced the worst regional drought in decades. In West Asia drought severely reduced food production in Jordan, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. In 1999, aggregate cereal production in the subregion was 16% lower than in the previous year and 12% lower than the average over the last five years. In Turkey, which normally contributes approximately 50% of subregional grain production, output fell by 6% as compared to the five-year average (GIEWS, 1999a). As Turkey is also the subregion's main cereal exporter, the volume of exports from the subregion, normally around 5 million tons, declined by about 50% (GIEWS, 1999a). In 2000, the drought forced Iran to import 7 million tons of wheat, making it the world's largest importer (United Nations Interagency Assessment Mission, 2001).

The situation in the Maghreb countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) was equally detrimental. As indicated by figure 16.5, the subregion's crop production (excluding Egypt, where much of the crop is irrigated) has widely fluctuated in recent years due to recurring droughts. From 1990 to 2000, aggregate cereal production ranged from 4 to 8 million tons in 5 drought years, and from 10 to 18 million tons in 5 good years (GIEWS, 2000a). The 1999 cereal crop was also affected by drought, with the production estimated at 8 million tons, which was 31% below the previous year's harvest. The year 2000 was the second consecutive year of reduced harvests in the subregion, particularly in Morocco and Algeria, with increased cereal imports putting more pressure on national budgets (GIEWS, 2000a).

Although droughts appear prominently in national-level agricultural statistics, their effects at subnational and local levels can be devastating. The drought episode of 1979-84 in Morocco reduced the small ruminant


Figure 16.4 Fluctuation in barley production in Morocco during 1961-2000 (from FAO-STAT, 2002).

population by 40-50% (Berkat, 2001). The drought in Iran, which entered its third consecutive year in 2001, completely destroyed rain-fed agriculture in most areas visited by the UN Assessment Team (United Nations Intera-gency Assessment Mission, 2001). More than 200,000 livestock owners lost their only source of livelihood. More than 500 villages in Kerman Province had no drinking water. Many of these villages were abandoned, and the population moved to the edges of bigger cities, adding pressure on the urban water supplies (Siadat and Shariati, 2001; United Nations Interagency Assessment Mission, 2001). The same drought reduced the flow in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Iraq to about 20% of their average flow, seriously constraining irrigated production, which constitutes more than 70% of cultivated area (GIEWS, 2000b). In Syria, approximately 47,000 nomadic households (329,000 people) had to liquidate their livestock assets and became vulnerable to food shortages, requiring urgent food assistance (GIEWS, 1999b).

These cases amply illustrate the extent of the social problems induced by drought in the region. For this region, there is an urgent need to develop permanent and institutionalized drought early warning and monitoring systems.

Status of Drought Monitoring Systems

Comprehensive drought planning requires the integration of the following functions: monitoring and early warning, risk assessment, and mitigation

Impact Drought Soil Crops
Figure 16.5 Relative production fluctuations for barley in the major producing countries of North Africa (from FAOSTAT, 2002).

and response (Wilhite and Svoboda, 2000). These functions can be exercised by different ministries, authorities, communities, or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) but require excellent coordination to make use of all available human and financial resources. The common approach to drought in the Near East has been one of crisis management rather than long-term drought planning. When a drought becomes apparent, a government drought mitigation program is set up, usually steered by an intergovernmental committee, headed by a lead ministry. When the drought subsides, the program is terminated and the committee disbands. Given this ad-hoc approach to drought management, it is not surprising that drought monitoring systems that are integrated at national level are not operational. Although drought affects major segments of society in the region, in general there has been limited coordination of information from sources, such as water supply or irrigation authorities, agricultural extension services, meteorological departments, and NGOs about the extent and impact of drought (De Pauw, 2000).

Generally speaking, most countries in the region do not have the well-functioning drought monitoring systems that would allow them to take timely action to mitigate the effects of droughts. For this reason, they often appeal to the United Nations for assistance in the form of rapid assessment missions to accurately assess the severity and extent of droughts and to estimate food imports and emergency assistance requirements.

Particularly missing in this region are integrated spatial frameworks, such as maps of agroecological and production system zones. Given the

1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1996 2001


1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1991 1996 2001


Figure 16.6 Relative production fluctuations of barley in the major producing countries of West Asia (from FAOSTAT, 2002).

tremendous diversity in agroecological conditions and livelihood systems, such information is vital for assessing the vulnerability to and potential impact of drought. In any drought monitoring system, meteorological services play a critical role. Without meteorological data and analytical tools to transform these data into relevant drought indicators, droughts cannot be adequately monitored. In most countries of the Near East, the meteorological networks are adequate and well equipped and represent major agroecological and agricultural production areas. Nevertheless, improvements are always possible, especially in highly arid zones (De Pauw et al., 2000). At the moment, meteorological departments of the region are poorly prepared to function effectively for drought early warning systems due to inadequate analytical tools required for drought monitoring, unsuitable information products, and insufficient data sharing.

Most services still define drought as a negative anomaly from normal precipitation, in terms of absolute or percentile deviations. This information is not used to monitor drought, but rather to characterize the climate during the ongoing year, month, and part of the year or agricultural season. Well-established drought indicators such as the Palmer drought severity index (Palmer, 1965) the standardized precipitation index (Guttman, 1998) or deciles (Gibbs and Maher, 1967) are not used for operational monitoring. Work on developing suitable drought indicators has just begun recently in Morocco (e.g., Yacoubi et al., 1998) and Syria but is not yet incorporated into operational drought monitoring systems. For the agricultural user community or other stakeholders, there are no regular bulletins that communicate early warnings or impacts of seasonal droughts based on the interpretation of the available raw data. A major problem is that the interinstitutional partnerships required to produce specialized drought information bulletins are hampered by the common practice of meteorological services of a region charging a fee for meteorological data, even to other government departments. With some exceptions (e.g., Turkey), the charges are often prohibitive and make no economic sense. As a result, the meteorological databases, which are indispensable for basic analyses such as drought risk assessment cannot be accessed by the agricultural user and research community, which has the highest data requirements but the lowest financial resources of all potential users of meteorological data.

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