Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Drought threatens Syrian wheat crops

A water shortage in Syria is sending many farmers into the slums around Damascus looking for other work. The drought is partially caused by a lack of upgrades to irrigation from the country's government and also by a lack of rainfall. The shortages in enough water to irrigate crops is turning Syria from a wheat exporter into a importer.

From Bloomberg Business Week, writer Daniel Williams talks about the causes of the water shortage.

Much of Syria’s farmland is irrigated by flooding, which wastes water, instead of through pipes and tubes, Yazigi said. “Modernization of agriculture has been neglected.”

Rainfall has averaged between 45 percent and 66 percent less than normal in three eastern provinces during the past two years, according to a February UN report. The country uses more water than it receives from rivers, and wells dug to make up the shortfall are depleting aquifers, Theib Oweis, a senior researcher at the Aleppo-based International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, said in a telephone interview.

Syria’s economy grew about 4 percent last year, a decline of 1 percentage point from 2008, the International Monetary Fund said in a Dec. 21 report. The harvest of wheat, Syria’s biggest crop, fell to about 2 million metric tons, half the usual amount, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“For the first time in two decades, Syria has moved from being a net exporter of wheat to a net importer,” said a February 2010 report by the U.S. State Department, which added that agriculture accounted for about 17 percent of 2008 GDP. The country buys wheat mainly from Mediterranean and Black Sea countries, including France, Ukraine and Russia, according to Syria’s official government news agency.

Rain and snow this winter have raised hope for a revived harvest, although one isn’t assured, Abdulla Bin Yehia, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative in Damascus, said in the Feb. 17 UN report.

“If there is no more rain in the drought-affected areas within the next six to seven weeks, then we may not have any crop,” he said. Frost could destroy produce and devastate farmers “for another year,” he added.

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