Drought management and mitigation

    Close-up of the Bedouin village in the steppe land of the Badia Project area (mud house and olive trees)    

The Near East and North Africa region is one of the most arid and semi-arid region in the world. Rainfall levels are already low and rainfall distribution is inconsistent and variable. Recurring seasons of drought in the region also have become more frequent in the last three decades, adversely affecting agricultural production in rainfed, Badia (rangeland) and irrigated areas. The rainfed and Badia environments serve as the habitat for the vast majority of the rural poor whose livelihoods are severely exasperated by the effects of drought. The environmental consequences of drought are also extremely severe, causing increased degradation of water resources and loss of biodiversity from overgrazing and deforestation.

Mazen El-Solh, reports on Drought and its implications, and highlights the need to prioritize drought management and mitigation in the region. Climate change has further changed and worsened this precarious condition by increasing unpredictability through erratic rainfall and extreme temperature patterns. Governments in the region recognize the need to develop proactive drought risk management strategies to deal with the problem. Progress has been made in developing coordination units/national committees to operate across ministries to synergize and coordinate actions and relief measures to reduce the effects of drought. These measures include developing drought-tolerant varieties, providing supplementary feed to safeguard livestock, forgiving debt, supplying credit and creating job opportunities in rural areas. These strategies have been supported by many donors, experts and regional and local organizations.

The International Center of Agriculture Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) engages in drought management and mitigation of its effects through the development of technologies. ICARDA mitigation measures have centred on improvements in production and management of crops, land and water resources through various techniques (e.g.  the development of crop varieties and breeds that tolerate drought, adapted livestock management, deficit and supplemental irrigation, water harvesting and no-till or minimum tillage systems). Through these means, ICARDA has supported national programmes and agricultural research systems in the region to promote better natural resource management to increase agricultural productivity and resilience to drought.

With the omnipresent threat of drought in the region because of climate change, the urgency to integrate drought management into long-term development is fundamental. ICARDA, as part of its efforts, hosts the Network on Drought Management for the Near East, Mediterranean and Central Asia (NEMEDECA), which was created in 2002 with ICARDA, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Centre International de Hautes Etudes Agronomiques Méditerranéennes (CIHEAM). The Network serves to enhance technical cooperation among concerned national, regional and international organizations in the region. The Network's objectives include promoting risk, vulnerability and impact assessments of drought, preparing and creating drought-preparedness and mitigation plans and promoting cooperation in planning and implementing drought-mitigation programmes at national and regional levels. The NEMEDECA network involves nations in the Arabian Peninsula; Central Asia; the Mediterranean European region; North Africa, the Nile Valley and the Red Sea; and West Asia.

NEMEDECA is a partner in the European Union-supported project on Mediterranean Drought Preparedness and Mitigation Planning (MEDROPLAN), which, under the coordination of the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Zaragoza (IAMZ), has recently developed guidelines for managing drought risk using preparedness plans and early warning systems. The MEDROPLAN guidelines provide a framework to move from a reactive to a proactive approach in fighting drought through a wide range of methodologies of drought analysis and management involving various stakeholders. In January 2008, ICARDA hosted a workshop about the applicability of these guidelines in Egypt, Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Syria and Turkey. ICARDA is actively involved in developing integrated approaches to enhancing drought and risk management measures and policies with partners and various stakeholders.

IFAD's Near East and North Africa Division (NENA) has collaborated for a long time with ICARDA, based on the concurrence of their respective mandates. Enabling the rural poor, whose livelihoods depend on agriculture in such harsh environments, necessitates that pro-poor research be developed and disseminated in scope and scale. In addition to collaborating on participatory-driven technical development and dissemination, it is perhaps advisable for NENA, ICARDA and other stakeholders (including NEMEDECA) to work together more directly and constructively on advocating for pro-poor policies that address climate change, drought management and risk mitigation.

Sources and pertinent references