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Tuesday, May 5, 2009




The Great Drought

In Iraq a severe drought is threatening to put an end to a UN sponsored project for restoration of the famous Marshlands.

By HADI MIZBAN, Associated Press Writer – Wed Apr 15

Last month, the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization and the Iraqi government announced a new $47 million program last month to restore the marshes, focusing on the southern provinces of Maysan, Dhi Qar and Basra.

But the program's Iraq director, Dr. Fadel el-Zubi, expressed doubt that the marshes can be fully restored without a break in the drought. Also needed are new water-sharing agreements among countries in the region including Syria and Iran to give Iraq more access to water, he said.

"There is much less water coming from neighboring countries," he said. "So the amount of water going to the marshlands will be less."

Source: Drought threatens `Garden of Eden' marshes in Iraq


Recent reports by IRIN from Iraq and Syria all tell of a very similar situation of several years of uninterrupted drought devastating agriculture and triggering migration to the cities.


BAGHDAD, 28 April 2009 (IRIN) - Water shortages, high levels of salinity, and desertification appear to have badly affected agricultural production this last winter, according to officials from the Iraqi agriculture and water resources ministries.

“We are suffering from a real and serious water crisis,” Mahdi al-Qaisi, undersecretary in the Agriculture Ministry, told IRIN in Baghdad. “We are not expecting winter season crops to meet local demand, and summer crops will probably be affected as well,” al-Qaisi said

. . .

Decades of war, UN sanctions, underinvestment, military operations, and the cutting down of trees for firewood have paralysed Iraq’s agricultural sector and increased salinity and desertification to “very scary levels”, al-Qaisi said.

According to the Agriculture Ministry, salinity is affecting at least 40 percent of agricultural land, mainly in central and southern Iraq, while 40-50 percent of what was agricultural land in the 1970s has been affected by desertification.

. . .

“Things are slipping from our hands,” said Mohammed Ali Sarham, a water expert in Iraq’s southern province of Diwaniyah. “We are entering the third year of drought; water levels are falling all the time, and nothing is being done about it,” Sarham said.

“Swaths of land are being turned into desert; farmers are leaving the countryside and heading to the cities or nearby areas. We are importing almost all our food, though in the 1950s we were one of the few regional cereal exporting countries,” he said.

Source: IRAQ: Death knell for agriculture?


Because of a high level of subsistence farming in Syria, many families have lost not just their income, but their means of feeding themselves. “Many farmers’ crops failed entirely,” Abdulla Tahir Bin Yehia, FAO representative in Syria, said. “It hits them very hard. No crop means no income. And on top of that they need to buy food and seeds which are at higher prices because of the crop failure.

. . .

“Herders and farmers have sold off their assets: land, animals, houses, furniture, jewellery - all for low prices,” Bin Yehia said. “The poorest are affected most. These include many women-headed households.”

Many of those affected have migrated to urban areas, causing rural school dropout rates to rise. According to the UN, migration rates from rural to urban areas have increased by 20 to 30 percent year-on-year from 2007 to 2008.

Source: SYRIA: Drought blamed for food scarcity

The severity of the current drought no longer appears a foretaste of the things to come, but the thing itself and it's coming fast. In some areas farmers are losing patience and confidence in farming as a way of life and reliable occupation. In this sense, even an occasional break in this latest wave of droughts may fail to produce a recovery as the psychological impact of this climatic disaster may far outstrip the economic one.

The economic impact is naturally more severe in those countries where agriculture accounts for a sizable share of the GDP. In particular, Syria is one such a country. It's not only agriculture that's slipping out of Syria's hands. The exploding budget deficit amidst declining oil revenues may be a sign of the government permanently losing control over the macroeconomic situation.

The UN predictions of millions of climatic refugees swamping the area of the Middle East and Africa by the end of the next decade may in fact be already happening. If things keep going like this, the Middle East may yet end as one of the most urbanized areas of the world. This second wave of urbanization created by the rapidly unfolding climate change is heavily loaded with consequences for the region. It means increased concentration of local populations in big cities where social conflicts may flair flare up. It also means an increased potential for ethnic and sectarian strife as different communities are forced to share streets and neighborhoods inside already overpopulated urban centers. From the economic point of view, whatever achievements the Arab regimes have had during this decade in reducing or better containing the region's massive unemployment, they are all in danger of getting undone by this migration.

The long term consequences are no less tremendous. Urbanization is credited by some as one of the contributing factors to the collapse of the Arab and other fertilities across the region. With fertility rates in Iran and some Arab countries now on a par with Scandinavia, one can only wonder how low the freefalling birth rates can now get under the combined impact of many deprivations created by the climate change. The mothership of the world's worst demographic explosions may yet astonish the world with the worst demographic collapse ever recorded in human history.

Signs of a massive cultural and social shift going on under surface are easy to spot; in some Arab countries women have been recently reported to outnumber men by three to one in university enrollments and this fact has many far reaching implications too.

If women increasingly seek to join the labor force in the next few decades, that will add to the pressures of creating sufficient jobs for the youth bulge. For instance, an increase over the next decade in women's labor force participation rate by ten percentage points -- which would still leave Middle East women well below the average in other developing countries -- would almost double the number of job-seekers being added to the labor force.

Source: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The migration flows created by the climate change and increased women workforce participation will keep the simmering with discontent underemployed youth bulge oversized and overactive well into the next decade.

Peace makers and other well intentioned individuals may still have a few years for dreaming up their noble dreams. But the ground is burning under their feet. It literally does.

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