Michel Jarraud

Secretary-General, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva

Of the many climatic events that influence the Earth's environment, drought is perhaps the one that is most linked with desertification. Drought is the consequence of a natural reduction in the amount of precipitation received over an extended period, usually a season or more in length.

Drought disrupts cropping programmes, reduces breeding stock, and threatens permanent erosion of the capital and resource base of farming enterprises. Continuous droughts stretching over several years in different parts of the world in the past significantly affected productivity and national economies. In addition, the risk of serious environmental damage, particularly through vegetation loss and soil erosion, as has happened in the Sahel during the late 1960s and early 1970s, has long-term implications for the sustainability of agriculture. Bush fires and dust storms often increase during the dry period.

As the United Nations' specialized agency with responsibility for meteorology, operational hydrology, and related geophysical sciences, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), since its inception, has been addressing the issue of agricultural droughts. The fight against drought receives a high priority in the WMO Long-Term Plan, particularly under the Agricultural Meteorology Programme, the Hydrology and Water Resources Programme, and the Technical Co-operation Programme. WMO involves actively the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), regional and sub-regional meteorological centres, and other bodies in the improvement of hydrological and meteorological networks for systematic observation, exchange, and analysis of data for better monitoring of droughts and use of medium- and long-range weather forecasts, and assists in the transfer of knowledge and technology.

In order to provide leadership in addressing related issues, WMO has been in the forefront of research on interactions of climate, drought, and desertification from its beginnings in the mid-1970s, when it was suggested that human activities in drylands could alter surface features that would lead to an intensification of desertification processes and trends. The urgent need to predict interannual climate variations is impelled by the socioeconomic developments, especially in Africa, over the past few decades. Research into the causes and effects of climate variations and long-term climate predictions with a view to providing early warnings is an essential component of this effort. WMO improves the climate prediction capability through the Climate Variability (CLIVAR) project of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). At a global level, the WMO's World Weather Watch and Hydrology and Water Resources Programmes provide a sound operational framework on which to build improved warning capacity for droughts.

WMO is pleased to sponsor this book on Monitoring and Predicting Agricultural Drought: A Global Study, which has been ably edited by Drs. V.K. Boken, A.P. Cracknell, and R.L. Heathcote. I believe that this publication will contribute to current efforts in developing effective drought preparedness and drought management strategies.

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