Rainfall appears to be declining in some countries
bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Over the past 100 years, precipitation
has decreased by more than 5 per cent over much of the land bordering the
Mediterranean with a few exceptions such as Libya and Tunisia (IPCC 1996).
The region suffered droughts during the 1930s, 1960s and the 1990s. In the
winters of 1991-92 and 1992-93, snowfall was rare in many areas of the eastern
Mediterranean (WMO and UNEP 1994). Cycles of drought have become intense
and more frequent. The 1998-99 drought affected many countries and Syria
was the worst hit, suffering its worst drought in 25 years (FAO 1999).
The 1998-99 drought in the Mashriq countries
had severe effects on the sheep population and their owners - many
herders were forced to sell their flocks at cheap prices for want
Source: UNEP, Topham Picturepoint
The most direct effects of the drought were crop failures and a decline
in cereal and livestock production. In Iraq, for example, cereal production
declined by 20 per cent compared to the previous year and by 40 per cent
compared to the average production for the previous five years (FAO 1999).
A report by a FAO/WFP mission to Syria stated that a large proportion
of the nomadic herders were facing 'financial ruin', with 4 700 households
seriously vulnerable to food shortages and in urgent need of food assistance.
Cereal production was also seriously affected. Barley harvest was estimated
to be only 380 000 tonnes - less than half the 1998 total and down 72
per cent from the previous five-year average. Local needs had to be satisfied
through imports. Reduction in wheat production was less severe (28 per
cent below average) because 40 per cent of Syria's wheat fields are irrigated.
Jordan was also adversely affected by the drought, which reduced the country's
wheat and barley production in 1999 by 88 per cent (WFP 2001).
Drought results in economic, social and environmental
problems. Economic hardships during drought intensify and can lead to social
conflict between land users, especially in the Mashriq countries and in
Yemen where an agricultural economy prevails. Drought is also a major limiting
factor to the region's economic development, affecting the development of
agricultural and water schemes, and ultimately food production.
A few of the 600 oil wells deliberately ignited
during the second Gulf War in January 1999
Source: UNEP, Sandro Pintras, Topham Picturepoint
Forage and fodder become scarce in rangelands during droughts. In addition,
the decline in cereal production and the limited availability of crop
residues worsen the impact of drought on the sheep population and consequently
on human well-being. Loss of sheep and the high price of supplementary
feed led to a significant drop in farmers' incomes and many families were
forced to sell off their animals and other assets at low prices (FAO 1999).
Land degradation, mostly in the form of desertification, is one of the
region's most serious problems. Although desertification is often attributed
to poor land use practices, drought deepens the effect and extends the
area prone to desertification to encompass areas normally not at risk.
Decreases in plant cover due to drought may also increase erosion and
lead to a nearly irreversible loss of productive potential and subsequently
desertification (Le Houérou 1993, Parton and others 1993).
Nations have responded to drought by improving national efforts to combat
desertification and joining international ones with the same aim such
as the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. Under the
auspices of this international treaty, national action programmes have
been developed and a subregional action programme to combat desertification
and drought was adopted in 2000 (UNCCD 2001).
At the national level, actions and measures include modification of agricultural
and water policies and giving priority to drought-affected areas.