Middle East drought a threat to global food prices

Fri Mar 7, 2014 10:26am EST
 
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By Suleiman Al-Khalidi

AMMAN (Reuters) - The Middle East's driest winter in several decades could pose a threat to global food prices, with local crops depleted and farmers' livelihoods blighted, U.N. experts and climatologists say.

Varying degrees of drought are hitting almost two thirds of the limited arable land across Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq.

"Going back to the last 100 years, I don't think you can get a five-year span that's been as dry," said Mohammad Raafi Hossain, a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) environmental economist.

The dry season has already hurt prospects for the cereal harvest in areas of Syria and to a lesser extent Iraq. Several of the countries under pressure are already significant buyers of grain from international markets.

"When governments that are responsible for importing basic foodstuffs have shortages in production, they will go to outside markets, where the extra demand will no doubt push global food prices higher," said Nakd Khamis, seed expert and consultant to the FAO.

The Standard Precipitation Index (SPI) shows the region has not had such low rainfall since at least 1970.

This was part of the initial findings of a joint technical study on Drought Risk Management undertaken by several U.N. agencies, including the FAO, UNDP and UNESCO, that would be formally published later this month, Hossain said.

Water and agriculture authorities, alongside specialist U.N. agencies, have begun preparing plans to officially declare a state of drought that spreads beyond the Eastern Middle East to Morocco and as far south as Yemen, climatologists and officials say.   Continued...

 
A sheep walk on a road as they graze in Palestinian village of al-Auja, near the West Bank city of Jericho March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Ammar Awad