Afghanistan + 6 more

FAO: Long term plans for drought mitigation and management in the Near East region

Originally published


Twenty-Sixth FAO Regional Conference for the Near East
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, 9 - 13 March 2002


History of Drought

1. Drought, in many occasions in the last five decades, had come to prominence in the news, portraying famines, agricultural production failures, disasters and similar disheartening experiences during the second half of the twentieth century. It is not really a new threat to life or to human well being, but an old phenomenon which, frequently or occasionally, hits parts of the earth causing damage with varying duration and intensity. In old times, incidences of drought were reported in the Greek Mythology and elucidated beautifully in the Holly Bible and the Glorious Koran. In recent history, during the last 300 years, dilapidating and scorching droughts continually struck many different parts of the world at various intervals, causing havoc and distress. Few examples could be mentioned such as the USA Great droughts of 1726, which continued for 23 years, and later 1930 drought, which lasted for 10 years, and the devastating droughts of the Sahelian Countries in Africa between 1968-1973 and most of the 1980s.

2. The long record of episodes of drought shows that such incidents are natural hazards. Nevertheless, the human element could be among the contributing factors for intensifying drought incidence and impacts and at the same time the major contributor to mitigating its effects. At this juncture, it might be illuminating to quote Bronowski's sagacious view on man's splendid abilities: "Man has become an architect of his environment; his method has been selective and probing: an intellectual approach in which action depends on understanding".

Definition of Drought

3. Drought, as a natural hazard, has been the subject of many studies by scientists from various disciplines and professions. Definitions of drought, therefore, differed according to the nature of needs for water or moisture. A simple definition addressing failure of the rain in its normal season has gone through various modifications. Several terms and definitions for drought included seasonal drought, contingent drought, meteorological drought, agricultural drought and hydrological drought. Other terms were proposed to qualify a drought according to land use or need such as "pastoral drought" and "ecosystem drought".

4. The World Metrology Organization proposed two definitions for drought: a) Prolonged absence or poor distribution of precipitation; and b) Period of abnormally dry weather sufficiently prolonged for the lack of precipitation to cause a serious hydrological imbalance. Furthermore, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), article 1, gave the following definition: "Drought" means the naturally-occurring phenomenon that exists when precipitation has been significantly below normal recorded levels, causing serious hydrological imbalances that adversely affect land resource production systems." It further gave the following definition for a measure relating to drought: "Mitigating the effects of drought means activities related to the prediction of drought and intended to reduce the vulnerability of society and natural systems to drought as it relates to combating desertification."

Causes of Drought

5. Although the causes of measurable drought episodes are still not very well defined, the following several possible causes have been cited:

a. Global cooling in the Northern Hemisphere as a cause for the prolonged drought of the Sahelian Region.

b. Global warming of the atmosphere was the basis for several suggestions as a cause for increase in the frequency of meteorological droughts.

c. Rain-producing atmospheric processes, when weakened by a reduction of the vegetative cover in arid and semi-arid areas, would lead to decreased albedo (reflectivity of the Earth's surface).

d. Variations in large-scale atmosphere circulation patterns at the locations of anticyclones or high-pressure systems which, if persistent for extended periods of time, could lead to weather extremes such as drought, floods, heat waves and cold snaps.


Near East as an Arid/Semi-arid Region

6. The Near East Region includes 29 countries and extends from the Atlantic Ocean (Mauritania and Morocco), to Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia. The population of the Region is estimated at about 561 million inhabitants (10% of the world total) 52 percent of whom are rural and the remaining 48 percent are urban. The Region occupies an area of 18.5 million km2 (14 percent of the world's area).

7. With an average annual rainfall of 205 mm, scarcity of water is the most dreadful challenge to agriculture in almost all countries of the Region. The World Bank reports predict that by the year 2025, annual renewable water supplies in almost all countries of the Region will fall below 700 m3 per capita. While the Near East covers 14% of the world's area, its water resources are only about 2 percent of the total Internal Renewable Water Resources of the world. Several international rivers cross the Region, including the most important ones such as Tigris, Euphrates and the Nile which originates from outside the Region.

Recent Drought Episodes in the Region

8. During the last 20 years, many countries of the Region have experienced long-term droughts. Morocco suffered from drought in the periods 1980-85 and in the period 1990-95, while Cyprus and Tunisia were hit by drought in 1982-83 and then again in the period 1993-95. Cyprus also suffered from another episode between 1995-2000. The consecutive three-year drought of 1998-2000 in some countries of the Region were a cause of great concern. The impact of drought varies from one country to another. However, generally, the recurrence of widespread drought attracts attention since it usually claims a growing number of human lives and livestock as a result of shortage in water, food and feed. The countries most affected were Afghanistan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, Syria and the Sudan.

General Consequences of Drought

9. The dominant variables that drive ecological changes are physical factors, such as rainfall, that lie beyond management control. Droughts that last more than a year have always been an adamant problem. It has far reaching effects on agricultural development, the environment political stability and the socio-economic aspects of rural life. Droughts directly affect the livelihood of the people by reducing food production, perishing livestock, decreasing purchasing power, inspiring civil strife and rapidly increasing the number of destitute people. Ultimately, people, internally-displaced or refugees in other countries, become dependent on international assistance.

10. The impact of drought in the Region differs from one sub-region to another and among countries within the sub-regions. The Region has historically two types of emergencies that sanction food aid: civil strife and natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods and drought waves.

Drought Impact on Agriculture

11. Some 70 percent of the agricultural areas in the Region are arid or semi-arid and only 20 percent of the total lands are cultivable. Agriculture plays a pivotal role in the economies of most of the Region countries, with varying levels of importance among them. It has a significant contribution to foreign trade in several countries, both as a generator of foreign exchange and for satisfying domestic food demand. The main crops grown are cereals, vegetables, fruits, fodder and fiber crops; with the major cereal crops being wheat, rice, maize, barley and sorghum.

12. The worst drought in decades had severely reduced the agriculture output in several countries with particularly sharp falls in Jordan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Iraq and Syria. Estimates of 1999 suggested that aggregate cereal outputs in those countries were about 16percent lower than 1998 and 12 percent lower than the average over the last five years. The successive droughts that hit the Near East countries had devastating consequences on plant, animal and human lives alike. They were aggravated more by civil strife that was taking place in several of these areas. However, the foremost affected was agricultural production which is directly connected with peoples' livelihood. The last three years of drought created mounting difficulties in some countries of the Region. In addition, agriculture structural problems and neglected irrigation systems can magnify the impact of drought and water shortages on agriculture production.

Drought Impact on the Environment and Biodiversity

13. Agricultural development and food security can be severely affected by adverse forces cutting across countries such as deforestation and environmental degradation. The degradation and alteration of many ecosystem processes have led to the loss of species and the threat of extinction to many others. In this context, it should be noted that drought and desertification directly and indirectly affected the wildlife diversity; and the Region became almost depleted of its wildlife due to some repeated drought episode waves.. It should further be recognized that extinction in biological diversity is irrevocable.

14. A case in point of the negative effects of droughts is the Sudan, where many of dryland areas were once productive and rich in agro-biodiversity. Dryland agriculture has been dramatically affected by the repeated droughts and desertification episodes that hit large areas in the country during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. As a result, traditional and indigenous crop varieties and cultivars, which constitute the staple food for people in dry regions of the country, have been threatened. Sorghum types, local groundnut landraces, roselle (karkadeh) and cowpea varieties suffered from desertification accelerated by climatic changes in the affected parts of the country. There was a long list of important tree species that were threatened by extinction, due to repeated droughts and desertification in many areas of Sudan, especially in Kordofan and Darfur States. Drought has also directly affected the gum production from Hashab (Acacia senegal.)

15. During the last drought period in the Islamic Republic of Iran; for example, many internationally known wetlands and lakes, such as the Hamoun wetland, became completely dry. The increasing number and severity of bush fires and sandstorms has affected the livelihood of local population and wildlife, and some species faced the threat of extinction. Prolonged periods of drought could lead to resource degradation. This was illustrated in severe water shortages, declining productivity of cultivable and range lands, loss of soil fertility and depletion of the resource base as well as genetic resources. The final result was triggering ecological retrogression and enhancing desertification.

Impact on Socio-Economic Aspects

16. Drought, land degradation and finally desertification trigger crises such as famine, poverty,, civil unrest, and sometimes war. War leads to movement, displacement and migration of the people, and these directly force them to loose their cultural identity and distort the fabric of their social life. The most vulnerable segments of the population to drought impact are in rural areas which have generally limited alternative sources of income. With the exception of few countries, food production growth rates are generally lower than the population growth rates. During the period of 1991-96, fifteen countries in the Region showed negative per capita food production growth rates.

17. The ratio of agricultural imports to total imports and total food consumption reflects the Region's dependence on food imports. Agricultural imports constituted approximately ¼ of the Region's total merchandise imports. Furthermore, the Region continues to face a widening food gap resulting in escalating imports of food particularly cereals, dairy products, sugar and vegetable oil. With the exception of one to three countries, most countries of the Region are facing a declining trend in food self-sufficiency ratios. However, agricultural total balance (total agriculture exports as a percent of total agricultural imports) ranged from very low levels in oil-rich countries, such as Algeria, Libya, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, to relatively high levels in Turkey, Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan and Syria.

18. In Iraq, and despite the Oil-for-Food programme, which has improved the food supply situation, there are still health and nutritional problems in many parts of the country. The drought had aggravated the food supply problem. The Oil for Food Programme Agreement allows Iraq to sell up to US$ 5.26 billion of oil over six months to buy food, medicine and health supplies and to utilize the balance for emergency and rehabilitation purposes.

19. In 1999, Tajikistan had its lowest rainfall in 75 years and families who were dependent in income generation on selling their cows and chickens were left with no other means of coping with the drought effects. Some households were forced to sell part of their home windows and wood beams out of their roofs.

20. In Somalia, drought and continued clan-based fighting have led to decreased coping ability and increased displacement, particularly in the southern parts of the country.

21. According to WHO, drought had been the major cause of death worldwide for about half of the victims of natural disasters. The reasons for this are lack of food and the aggravation of malnutrition situation among other factors. It was explained by WHO that in hot countries or during heat waves associated with drought, mortality might also be directly related to a combination of heat and water shortage. Drought would not only bring famine, the biggest killer, but also other health affecting factors such as malaria and forest fires. Drought impact was obvious on infection rates when there was less water available for drinking and for personal hygiene. Diseases such as trachoma and scabies could also result from drought effects. People are more likely exposed to risk through drinking unsafe water and its load of infection. WHO studies have shown that, in times of shortage, people tend to use water for cooking rather than for hygiene.


22. Most countries of the Region, as indicated above, are net importers of food requirements. This is due to a number of intertwined factors chief among which is the prevailing aridity in most of the lands of the Region. The recurrence of drought in many countries complicates the primary job of governments, particularly relating to the enhancement of the production of food items and their effective distribution. In addition, Governments shoulder the arduous related responsibility in ensuring food accessibility and security in all parts of the country.

Reasons for Continuous Increase in Food Needs

23. The major reasons that call for continuous increase in food production could be summarized in the following: (i) rising demand due to high rates of population growth, and an ever-aspiring population to higher standards of living; and (ii) requirement of a precautionary measure against drought or other disasters which threaten normal life with decreasing levels of land and animal productivity.

24. It is important to ascertain three basic positions vis-à-vis drought.

First. Drought should be taken as an inevitable recurrence of a natural phenomenon, being a variation in the pattern of normal rainfall.

Second. Drought should not be treated like an outbreak of an epidemic disease, but rather like a condition whose victims have to learn how to cope with it.

Third. It is not enough to anticipate the coming of drought, but also to assess the extent to which the country is prepared for such a difficult occasion, and to be ready with a package of measures to mitigate the adverse impacts of drought.

25. National policies and programmes for enhancing food production and distribution and improving food security during drought are part of the preparedness and mitigation actions. Generally, proclaimed policies and programmes for achieving targets of increasing food production and ensuring food security always looked good on paper in many countries, but little is usually done regarding effective preparatory plans and their implementation. Before presenting illustrations from countries of the Region, an overview of the whole scene will be given.

26. On the whole, the decade of the 1990-1999 witnessed some advances in development records. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for 24 NE countries rose up and so did the individual's share. A remaining question might be whether there is a possible connection between a country's rank in the UNDP Human Development Indicator (HDI) and its vulnerability to drought disaster. This might be justified since poor scoring in HDI is, in libel-hood, the accurate reflection of the status of poverty and lack of reasonable standards of essential services.

27. Moving from the general statements to the specificity of agriculture, macro-economic policies in agriculture have been directed towards the liberalization of the agricultural sector and the privatization of the public agricultural schemes and of trade in agricultural inputs and commodities.

Food Security During Drought

28. A comprehensive definition by FAO for food security is that it exists when "all people at all times have access to enough safe and nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life." This definition implies availability, durability and accessibility. It requires not only that sufficient food is available at all times, but also that every individual and household has access to the food it needs. The importance of this issue is duly reflected in many international declarations which include food security as a basic human right.

29. The status of food security in the Region has been subject to continuous fluctuations, but the prevailing trend indicates that food consumption has been rising at much higher rates than food production. The shortage of food production as a result of a higher rate of population growth was aggravated by drought which at times has caused total crop failures. The history of affected countries showed that only very few countries have options to utilize assistance during drought, and these are mainly the ones which have a reasonable area under irrigation; since this is not affected by drought as was the case with Tigris and Euphrates during the recent drought wave.

30. Food imports bill for the majority of countries is growing. Imports of cereals, as proportion of total annual consumption, expanded from 15 percent in 1970-75 to 33 percent in 1980-85. A high level of dependence on food imports has been a matter of great economic and political concern to policy makers in most of these countries.

31. It is obvious that drought leads to food insecurity, the status of which would depend on many factors including the following:

- Amount of stored reserves (emergency stocks);
- Alternative methods which could be brought to function and produce additional quantities of food;
- Ability to import food to fill the gap and its availability in external markets;
- International aid; and
- Adequacy of needed infrastructure to enable sending timely supplies from stock resources, imports or foreign aid to the most affected areas.

This presents a gloomy picture that will be further aggravated in future drought episodes, if drought-prone countries do not embark immediately in well designed and sustainable programmes for modernizing their agricultural production systems by introducing new technology packages and adopting new crop husbandry methods and practices.


Rationale of the Approach

32. Drought is a natural hazard that could lead to serious disasters - famine, displacement of people, death of man and livestock, as well as the serious degradation of natural resources. With this level of catastrophic consequences, national governments, regional bodies and international organizations cannot spare time before moving to offer the necessary help when the occurrence of drought is established in an area. The recent history of catastrophic droughts in the 20th century starting with 1913/14 in Africa and the famous Sahel Drought of 1968-73 and the current wave extending from China in the east to Morocco in the west, left some question marks as to the evolution of the approaches and efforts which are adopted and undertaken at the national, regional and international levels.

33. Generally, in those countries which have tight budgets and no reserves, drought normally does not receive a high priority. It; therefore, follows that a poor country spends little on drought mitigation or management and a poorer one spends even less. Ironically, drought hits harder on the poor and spreads quicker among poor nations as noticed recently. As a general role, those who are in a position to help tend to provide it to those who could help themselves first. Accordingly, the poorer nations are likely to receive less help. This was the case during the Sahel drought and is about to be repeated in the current drought wave. Often the expression of "donor fatigue" has been heard, which means that affected governments and people should expect less.

National Approach and Efforts

34. At the national level, actors are the government and the people who are either organized in civil society associations or ordinary masses not organized in any form. The national approach depends on several factors such as awareness, level of education enlightenment, sense of responsibility, inherent ability and financial capability. It is difficult to expect from governments and people in developing countries with their prevailing poverty and war-torn regions much of effective control action. In sudden disasters, call for outside help is expected and this is what happens with all victims of drought in developing countries. Nonetheless, some governments have realized the need to move several steps ahead in the way to preparedness. Such moves, if based on well designed plans, supported by well defined institutional set-up for implementation and reinforced by rehabilitation and/or construction of new infra-structure in the most vulnerable areas, will help alleviate the problem when drought hits again and lower dependence on foreign assistance.

Regional and International Efforts

35. In most cases, Drought covers a whole region involving several countries and its immediate problems such as famine and displaced persons spill out across borders and cause the flaring up of conflicts. The consequences, assistance needs, and the drought impact are felt worldwide. While national efforts are essential for the fight against drought, regional and international co-operation would complement such efforts and remains crucial in meeting any substantial achievements.

36. The United Nations Desertification Control Action Plan which contained recommendations at national, sub-regional and international levels was adopted in Nairobi 1977.The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was charged with responsibility to monitor and ensure the implementation of the Plan. Since then, UNEP has established a Desertification Control Unit, and supported tens of projects all over the world with the main objective of combating desertification and mitigating drought impacts.

37. In 1980, the Assembly of Heads of States and Governments of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) adopted the Lagos Plan of Action which included drought and desertification as priority issues that need urgent solutions. In 1985, the African Ministerial Conference adopted the Cairo Programme on African Co-operation whose primary objective was to put an end to the degradation of the African environment and reverse the process with a view to meeting the food and energy requirement of the African population .In November 2001, the FAO Regional Office, in corporation with ICARDA, CIHAM, and with support from the European Commission, launched the Regional Network on Drought Mitigation to forester information exchange among the Region countries.

38. IFAD-financed projects in the Near East Region, both at the national and regional levels, were being implemented with full collaboration of the two leading research centres for arid and semi arid lands: ICARDA, ACSAD. The latter is the Regional Focal Point for the CCD in the Arab Region. Through a tri-partite collaboration between IFAD, ICARDA, ACSAD and the National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS); low-input and simple techniques were being introduced at the farm level for better soil and water conservation, higher integration of crop-livestock and environmentally friendlier farming systems. This was the case for the Mashreq-Maghreb Project with ICARDA; the Rainfed Farming Systems with ACSAD; the Arabian Peninsula Saline Water Programme with ICARDA, the Applied Camel Research Network with ACSAD; and the Date Palm Research Network with ACSAD, among others. IFAD has approached the Italian Government to assist Algeria in the preparation of a National Action Plan (NAP) to combat desertification. Pending on availability of funds, IFAD would provide the necessary backstopping to Algeria through the Global Mechanism in the preparation of its national plan.

39. In the field of forestry development, including biodiversity and conservation, many countries affected by desertification have launched national planning/programming processes. In several countries, these national forest programmes have been implemented with the support of the international donor community, UNDP, Global Environment Facility (GEF) mobilizing financial national and external resources for programmes and projects relevant to the CCD such as forest resources conservation and management, agro-forestry, watershed management, reforestation and a forestation, community forestry, extension and public awareness.

The United Nations Convention on Drought and Desertification (UNCDD)

40. Greater awareness at the highest level of governments of the problem and the need for collective action to mitigate it has made it possible to draft and adopt the International Convention on Combating Desertification and Drought, and to encourage the undertaking by the Heads of States of most of the world countries to enter a partnership contracts to effectively combat desertification and drought by taking a participatory approach. In the UNCED Earth Summit in 1992, Governments agreed to draw up the above mentioned international Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought. After five rounds of negotiations, the Convention was completed and adopted in June 1994. The objective of the Convention is to: "combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification through effective action at all levels, supported by international cooperation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach to sustainable development."

41. Among the key commitments in the Convention were:

­ a bottom-up and participatory approach focusing on actions at the local level with supportive measures at other levels and streamlining in the use of human, financial and technical resources for that purpose;
­ a partnership agreement establishing contacts between affected developing countries and developed country parties, as well as United Nations agencies and NGOs;
­ use of modern science and technology combined with local knowledge to prepare solutions for sustainable dryland development; and
­ an integrated approach including all national development plans and strategies with operational mechanisms for coordination and harmonization of interventions within the affected countries, as well as among donor parties.

The Convention called for creating the following instruments:

i National Action Programmes

Countries affected by desertification and drought are to implement the Convention by developing and carrying out national, sub-regional and regional action programmes.

ii. Partnership Agreements

The Convention action programmes are to be developed, through consultations among affected countries, donors, and inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. It was also supposed to produce partnership agreements that spell out the respective contributions of affected countries, donor states, and international organizations.

Food and Agriculture Organization Efforts

42. FAO has been associated with the conception and organized fight against desertification since its initiation in the late sixties, by participation and action. The concept of FAO, which remains well-noted, states: "Desertification should be viewed as a breakdown of the fragile balance that allowed plant, human and animal life to develop in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones." This breakdown of the equilibrium and of the physical, chemical and biological processes that sustain it, represents the start of a process of self destruction for all elements of the life system. Thus, soil vulnerability to wind and water erosion, the lowering of the water table, the impairment of the natural regeneration of vegetation, the chemical degradation of soil, which are, in fact, all immediate results of desertification, worsen the situation. In brief, it could be said that. "Desertification feeds on itself."

43. Efforts of FAO against drought and desertification, particularly in relation to participating in the preparation of the UNCDD and its follow-up, include the following specific programmes:

a. Special Programme for Food Security SPFS in Low Income Food-Deficit Countries;

b. International Scheme for the Conservation and Rehabilitation of African Lands (ISCRAL);

c. International Scheme for Water and Sustainable Agriculture (WASAD);

d. Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS);

e. Food Security Assistance Scheme (FSAS);

f. National Forests Action Programme (NFAP);

g. Forests, Trees and People Programme (FTP);

h. African Real Time Environmental Monitoring and Information System (ARTEMIS);

i. Africa Land Cover Map and Digital Geographic Database Project (AFRICOVER); and

j. New Partnership for Development in Africa (NEPAD), launched in 2001.

44. FAO is also committed to assist the IGADD Secretariat in the formulation of a sub-regional action programme within the framework of the Convention. This cooperation will concentrate on the formulation of the food security component of the programme and will be facilitated through the recently approved FAO funded project "Assistance to Develop a Drought and Disaster Preparedness Strategy in the IGADD Region."

The FAO Investment Centre (partially funded by the World Bank) has formulated numerous investment projects for international and regional banks (more than 40 in the last ten years), with elements of desertification control, mainly within agricultural development programmes. The emphasis has been on soil conservation, dune stabilization, forestry and agro-forestry; however, some included livestock management and desertification control. Most are in sub-Saharan Africa, and some are in Asia, Latin America, and the Near East. Furthermore, the underlying theme of much of FAO field programme is to strengthen the capacities of countries for the sustainable management of natural resources and the fight against desertification.

45. According to FAO, the share of the Arab Region of the FAO field programme in 1998 consisted of 96 projects and programmes, including regional (inter-country) projects in 15 countries, of which 36 percent were nationally executed. The most important programmes in relation to combating drought and desertification were placed on activities related to land and water management and sand dune stabilization, integrated management of rangelands and other natural resources, and management of wood resources and reforestation. Land and water management and sand dune stabilization comprise a whole range of projects, notably: integrating watershed management, rehabilitation of degraded land, soil conservation, agro-ecological studies, and natural resource assessment.

46. FAO strategic priority is food security. It recognizes that an essential element for food security is the conservation and sustainable management of the natural resources essential to food production. The FAO Special Programme on Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (SARD) in drylands implies combating drought and desertification.

47. Upon several requests from Member Countries, the FAO Regional Office for the Near East has been involved in sensitizing all concerned officials in the Region on the issue of "Drought Mitigation and Preparedness Planning." Towards trying to achieve this, the Regional Office has undertaken the following steps:

a. A "FAO-ICARDA-EC Expert Consultation and Workshop on Drought Mitigation in the Near East and the Mediterranean" was convened at ICARDA headquarters in Aleppo, Syria, in May 2001. Participants from 12 countries in the Region as well as several concerned Regional and International Organizations were present. This Meeting concluded that due to the recurrence of drought waves with their detrimental socio-economic and environmental consequences to communities, serious and concerted efforts are to be exerted from all stakeholders in the Region to adopt and implement long-term preparedness and mitigation plans.

b. A nucleus of a 'Regional Data Base' on Drought Mitigation studies was initiated at the Regional Office and a CD was prepared, including some 300 compiled references. Copies of this CD were distributed to Member Countries.

c. A Drought Information Network was launched in November 2001, with FAO Regional Office for the Near East and ICARDA as the main founders and CIHEAM and the European Commission as Collaborators.

d. The FAO Land and Water Development Division and the Regional Office have responded to requests from some of the Governments to start developing their national plans for Drought Mitigation through TCP projects for the Islamic Republic of Iran and Pakistan.

e. FAO has already pushed this issue of Drought to the top of the Agenda of several FAO regional fora in order to promote the concept of "Risk Management" of the recurrent drought phenomenon, and move away from the "emergency-type approach and management" that is currently mostly prevailing.

f. FAO convened a Regional Consultation on Investment in Land and Water in the Near East in Amman, Jordan, in October 2001. Ten countries and four International Organizations attended this consultation where, issues relating to "Long Term Drought Management", among other major issues, were highlighted.


Drought - Prone Drylands Need Action Plans

48. Since droughts are a normal part of virtually any climate, it is important to develop plans to reduce their impacts. This was the opening sentence in Wilhites' Handbook of Drought Planning Methodologies. Developing countries in the drylands are mostly drought-prone. The Near East countries, which are already in this category, also have the fastest growing food deficit in the world and could face catastrophe if their remaining resources are not properly managed. It is; therefore, of vital importance that drought-prone countries develop and implement drought management plans and effective mitigation measures.

49. Agenda 21, the most popular product of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in 1992, dealt in chapter 12 with "Managing Fragile Ecosystems: Combating Desertification and Drought." It is worth noting from the wording of this title the strong bond between desertification and drought. Chapter 12 addressed the big task in six programme areas. Programme area 'D' deals with "Developing Comprehensive Anti-desertification Programmes and integrating them into national development plans and national environmental planning". Programme area 'E', deals with "Developing Comprehensive Drought Preparedness and Drought-Relief Schemes, including self-help arrangements, for drought-prone areas and designing programmes to cope with environmental refugees."

50. The presentation of this programme area is given under four headings: basis for action, objectives, activities and means of implementation. Notes and working guidelines are given under each heading. The objectives of this programme area are:

­ To develop national strategies for drought preparedness in both the short and long terms, aimed at reducing the vulnerability of production systems to drought;
­ To strengthen the flow of early-warning information to decision-makers and land users, to enable nations to implement strategies for drought intervention; and
­ To develop and integrate drought-relief schemes and means of coping with environmental refugees into national and regional development planning.

51. A total of 14 activities are subdivided into four sections: management-related activities; data and information; international and regional cooperation and coordination; and means of implementation. To give examples of these activities, the list included: design strategies to deal with food deficiencies in periods of production shortfall; improve national capacity for agro-meteorology and contingency crop planning; prepare rural projects for providing short-term rural employment to drought-affected households; establish contingency arrangements for food and fodder distribution and water supply... etc. Developing and drought-pone countries seem to have been unable to carry this list among their top priorities and there seems to be no record of any country that has managed to implement this programme. Syria and Jordan, both having attended the UNCED in 1992 and signed the Convention in 1994, had their National Action Programmes for combating Desertification and Mitigating the Effects of Drought prepared in 1995 for Syria and in 1996 for Jordan. Programme area 'E' on "Drought Preparedness and Relief Schemes" was included in the two documents. UNDP also reported that before the end of 1999, over 140 countries had ratified the Convention. The report added that UNDP/UNSO has provided technical and catalytic funding to help some 50 countries launch their National Action Programmes.

Problems Facing Design and Implementation of Effective Drought Management

52. Countries which were drought-prone, located in drylands with large portions of their soils suffering from advanced degree of degradation, and classified as low income-food deficit countries, need immediate action to elaborate and activate their national plans to mitigate drought. It is also important to search and find out the real causes holding back these countries for years from advancing with formulation or implementation of their plans. The following short notes may help in this search to uncover some of these reasons.

a. Lack of information and data. This is a common problem in developing countries, which makes the design of any intellectual product a very difficult task.

b. Scarcity of trained and experienced personnel. This is the category which usually thinks about issues, brings them to the front and suggests sound solutions. Such scarcity would impair appropriate design and implementation of plans, and the making of sound policies and programmes.

c. Lack of political will. The lack of placing the issue at such a high-decision level is often the cause behind this situation.

d. Lack of public will. People's will has been ignored for a long time and has not been recognized, although the real community participation is a condition for success.

e. Predetermined low priority case. When the nature of the problem is uncertain and it is not a yearly event, it is the first to be dropped under stringent economic conditions.

f. Conceptual difference or conceptual separatism. Two approaches were being followed in the preparation of the National Action Programme (NAP) for Combating Desertification and Drought. One approach aims at preparing one plan for both desertification and drought. The second approach goes for the preparation of two separate plans: one for combating desertification and the other for mitigating the effects of drought. This second approach may be one of the reasons contributing to the delay in processing the plans. It could also lead to several negative consequences unless the two components are well co-ordinated or put under the same body: By achieving this, the integration approach and the holistic look and treatment of the subject of managing drylands or the problem of desertification can be secured. On the other hand, the creation of two separate administrations for the execution of two plans would entail dividing the implementation of the "UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Drought" between two separate administrations.

Need for a Lead Governmental Office

53. It is probably useful to have the preparatory studies and write-up of the plan as well as responsibility for execution supervised by the same Government body that has been assigned the responsibility for the formulation of the drought plan. The body should be under the highest possible level of decision-making, such as the head of state or prime minister. This choice of a very important Government office will prove extremely helpful in gathering information and data, as well as in securing the services and cooperation of the rest of the Government offices.

Framework for Establishing Sustainable Systems for Drought Mitigation Measures

54. It is of prime importance in the preparation of all documents pertaining to drought mitigation and management that the working team knows the policies and strategies of the government. A small team of experienced professionals could be entrusted with the preliminary steps in the preparation of the National Plan. They can start by receiving proposals from various government departments for discussion and use in the text of the plan, if approved by the senior responsible authority.

Drought Management needs to be based on ecological grounds in order to be sustainable, and needs to incorporate a mechanism for management of hazards, taking into consideration the following basic principles:

(i) the inseparable link between drought and desertification;

(ii) the fragility and limited ecological resilience and its permeating influence on peoples' livelihood and stability; and

(iii) drought and desertification management should have specifications compatible with the natural and man-made modifications into the life style of these fragile ecosystems.

For the management of drought to effectively capture the above principle elements, it requires an early warning (forecast) mechanism, and adequate societal preparedness plan (society organized to face the event), and an enabling mechanism that would provide support and relief to the menaced communities.

55. Examples of the format of drought management have been prepared by several countries and organizations and are available for use as guidelines. For instance, a case study from Syria presents a type of drought management that has depended on: revival of an old Arab Bedouin tribe system of reserve grazing (the Hema); re-formulating grazing rights of tribes to bedouin cooperatives; and ecologically-sound and socially accepted management operations including a credit mechanism which provided support in drought years. During 1967-1980, the system established sheep, range and dairy cooperatives and a national fund operating with US$ 16 million which provided short term low interest loans to the cooperatives and their members. The system enabled the pastoralist communities and Syrian steppe rangelands to cope with drought. The essence of this drought management packet is insurance against natural hazard, which has been recommended in the UN Plan of Action to Combat Desertification, such packet was adopted by some of the Near East countries such as Morocco where this system of insurance against drought hazards became operational five years ago. Other models for drought preparedness plans are described below.

Drought Planning Handbook of Methodologies (2001)

56. Drought Planners' Handbook, first published by D.A. Wilhite in 1990, has been revised several times and updated in February 2001. The plan is based on a ten-step process and functions through three main groups: Drought Task Force, Monitoring Committee, and a Risk Assessment Committee. The Handbook should be used as a guide, by adapting it to the specific local conditions and characteristics.

Knuston's Guide (1998): How to Reduce Drought Risk

This Guide describes a practical step-by-step process for identifying actions that can be taken to reduce potential drought- related impacts before a drought occurs. Below is a brief account of the Guide's steps:

Step 1: Getting Started

Bring together the right group of people for the type of interdisciplinary approach required, and supply them with adequate data to make fair, efficient and informed decisions pertaining to drought risk. The Guide provides valuable information, including a glossary of terms, supplementary information, a checklist of drought impacts... etc., in several appendices.

Step 2: Drought impact assessment

This initial assessment identifies drought impacts but does not identify the underlying reasons for those impacts. A detailed list of impacts is given in the Guide.

Step 3: Ranking the Inputs

All the categories that were checked before should be made into a new list thus narrowing the focus of the study into the high priority drought related impacts.

Step 4: Vulnerability Assessment

Vulnerability assessment provides a framework for identifying the social, economic and environmental causes of drought impacts. It bridges the gaps between impact assessment and policy formation by directing policy attention to the underlying causes of vulnerability rather than to its result, and the negative impact which follows triggering events such as drought. This step demonstrates that in order to reduce the potential for the identified impacts to occur in the future, it is necessary to understand the underlying environmental, economic, and social causes of the impacts.

Step 5: Action Identification

A stage during which actions that are appropriate for reducing drought risk are identified. In this step, the mitigating actions should be identified before potential response actions could proceed.

Step 6: Developing the "To Do List"

Having identified impacts, causes and relevant potential actions, the next step is to choose which actions to take in the risk reduction planning. This selection should be based on such concerns as feasibility, effectiveness, cost, and equity. In completing this last step, the true drought vulnerabilities are addressed in a manner that will subsequently reduce drought-related impacts and risks. The above short summaries are intended to encourage keen policy/decision makers and scientists to consult the Guide. These two drought management guides are elaborate but could possibly be tried in the Region, particularly in those countries that have the financial resources and the trained manpower to undertake the task.

57. In essence, a drought mitigation action plan implies the following six components:

a. Drought resilience policies;
b. Monitoring and early warning systems;
c. Drought contingency planning;
d. Drought mitigation measures;
e. Relief measures; and
f. Rehabilitation measures.


A. Recommended Action by Member Countries

58. Realizing the serious ramifications of drought impact on communities, governments of the Near East Countries are called upon to:

a. Take the necessary steps for formulating "National Action Plans for Drought Mitigation," within the framework of overall development programmes for communities in drought-prone areas.

b. Create the required institutional set-up for implementing, co-ordinating and monitoring the execution of national plans for Drought Mitigation and attach this set-up to the highest governmental level possible.

c. Provide the necessary resources to establish a "Drought Watch and Early Warning System" for the timely alert and preparedness of the country.

d. Adopt the 'participatory approach' by closely involving community sectors at grass-root level, including NGOs, women and youth, in the formulation/implementation of programmes and in launching an awareness and education campaign to sensitize all stakeholders to drought impacts; as well as identifying each the role of each sector in the relief and rehabilitation activities.

e. Provide facilities and enact required legislation and policies to allow creating the enabling mechanisms that would be entrusted with drought mitigation measures to be implemented at village, district, provincial and national levels.

f. Establish adequate liaison with regional and international organizations, such as UNCCD, and UNSO, and interest groups for the follow-up of drought mitigation activities at regional and global levels.

g. Accord due attention and consideration to the socio- economic dimension of drought within the framework of the "Preparedness and Mitigation Plans", which should be comprehensive and integrated to address rehabilitation and development, including rangeland, livestock, forestry and crop production.

h. Submit requests to International and Regional Organizations for providing technical and financial support for a "Regional Project," which should serve as a pilot project for testing, validating, adapting and adopting appropriate technologies for water saving and other drought-coping mechanisms as well as for co-ordinating efforts and exchanging information and experiences.

B. Recommended Action by FAO and other Organizations

59. FAO and other concerned international and regional organizations are requested to:

a. Provide technical assistance and advisory support to member countries in formulating and developing their long-term Action Plans for Drought Mitigation.

b. Assist Member Counties in the formulation of a Regional Project on Drought Mitigation for submission to interested donors.

c. Support the operation and sustainability of the recently-launched Drought Information Network for the Near East and the Mediterranean.