Impact of drought in the Middle East

Parliament house flag post

Impact of drought in the Middle East

Posted 28/03/2014 by Wendy Bruere

According to a Reuters report from 7 March, United Nations (UN) agencies and water and agricultural authorities are preparing to declare a drought in the Middle East. Aside from the immediate impact of drought on crops, water scarcity is already a problem in parts of the Middle East, and some of the most affected countries are already struggling to absorb hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees.

The Reuters report referred to the initial findings of a joint technical study on Drought Risk Management by UN agencies, including the FAO, UNDP and UNESCO (scheduled for publication in late March), that shows drought has affected nearly two thirds of the farmable land in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, massively depleting food production. According to the report, the Middle East has just endured its driest winter in decades, and the Standard Precipitation Index shows the region has not had such low rainfall since at least 1970. Israel, although located in the same area, is largely unaffected due to its investment in desalination plants and water conservation measures.

In Jordan—already one of the world’s most water-scarce countries—rainfall this season was less than one third of the average amount, leaving dams only 43% full, and farmers struggling to grow crops such as wheat and barley.

The study argues the drought will lead to an increase in global food prices as these countries will now need to import certain foods, such as grains, in greater quantities. While increased global prices may be good news for Australian wheat farmers, as most Australian-grown wheat is exported, price rises could still be bad news for domestic consumers.

Drought will also impact on local livelihoods, particularly in Syria and Iraq where around 30% of people are at least partially reliant on agriculture. Syria is especially vulnerable as food production has already fallen significantly due to the conflict, and drought will deliver another blow to already struggling farmers. This should be of concern to Australia as it comes after millions of aid dollars have been spent in Iraq and Syria on development and humanitarian assistance. In Iraq this includes assistance specifically aimed at enhancing agricultural productivity. The $112.8 million in assistance that Australia has so far contributed to the Syrian response includes support for the provision of food and safe water to vulnerable people within Syria, as well as to refugees who have fled to nearby countries—though it seems likely drought will increase the existing needs.

The influx of Syrian refugees to some of the countries most impacted by the drought will also increase pressure on resources such as food and water. Lebanon now has 975,000 Syrian refugees registered or waiting to register, compared to a population of around 4.4 million. Jordan has 585,000 Syrian refugees registered, and Iraq has 225,000.

In parts of northern Jordan, average water consumption has dropped 25%—from 88 to 66 litres per person per day—since the arrival of Syrian refugees began placing additional demands on water supplies. In northern Jordan, 95,000 refugees live in Za’atari refugee camp, but while a borehole has been drilled for the camp, it currently only provides about one third of the water required and the rest is trucked in from nearby areas. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Catarina de Albuquerque, has described the current emergency measures in Jordan as ‘not sufficient or sustainable’. 

Unsurprisingly, social tensions between refugees and local populations have already been reported in Lebanon and Jordan, partly due to the pressure on local resources and services. And if the drought continues—as the Drought Risk Management study predicts—these tensions could intensify.

Water scarcity in parts of the Middle East is also exacerbated by unsustainable use of groundwater. A NASA study found freshwater reserves in parts of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran along the Tigris and Euphrates river basins had lost 144 cubic kilometres of freshwater from 2003 to 2009. This was attributed mainly to pumping underground reservoirs for ground water (60%), as well as the impacts of drought (20%), and loss of surface water from lakes and reservoirs (20%).

This suggests that investment from the international community in long-term solutions to provide water security to the Middle East may be necessary in order to mitigate consequences to the global market and regional security.

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




refugees asylum immigration parliament climate change Australian foreign policy elections social security welfare reform welfare policy school education Indigenous Australians Australian Defence Force health financing taxation women Private health insurance higher education emissions trading Australian Bureau of Statistics employment people trafficking statistics Middle East illicit drugs gambling health reform federal election 2010 income management Medicare disability Sport United Nations Asia politics criminal law Afghanistan health forced labour transport aid Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget Industrial Relations Carbon Pricing Mechanism dental health Senate Australian Public Service constitution Australian Electoral Commission WADA child protection environment poker machines Australia in the Asian Century steroids National Disability Insurance Scheme detention aged care 43rd Parliament slavery health system OECD ASADA Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Fair Work Act governance labour force people smuggling debt international relations New Zealand food Australian Crime Commission pharmaceutical benefits scheme electoral reform Census election results UK Parliament Papua New Guinea banking International Women's Day corruption pensions public service reform children's health Aviation federal election 2013 foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability parliamentary procedure Senators and Members ALP Newstart Parenting Payment multiculturalism Youth Allowance sea farers leadership military history by-election political parties High Court skilled migration voting mental health Federal Court terrorist groups science social media Higher Education Loan Program HECS federal state relations accountability youth paid parental leave same sex relationships coal seam gas customs planning doping crime health risks Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery Special Rapporteur Northern Territory Emergency Response social policy Productivity United Kingdom firearms public policy Population violence against women domestic violence China ADRV terrorism transparency research and development welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation carbon tax mining employer employee renewable energy regional unemployment fishing European Union family assistance United Nations Security Council Australian economy forestry food labelling vocational education and training Drugs welfare systems Indonesia children Constitutional reform local government codes of conduct terrorist financing homelessness Parliamentary remuneration money laundering Trafficking in Persons Report energy social inclusion human rights paternalism election timetable citizenship asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity standards NATO Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse World Trade Organization Australia public health housing affordability bulk billing water health policy Governor-General US economy trade unions export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation public housing expertise climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry regulation Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets animal health middle class welfare Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government referendum consumer laws PISA competition policy royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition citizen engagement policymaking Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol forced marriage rural and regional alcohol entitlements ministries Hung Parliament social citizenship maritime Iran ANZUS regional students school chaplains federal budget 2011-12 salary Medicare Locals primary care Building the Education Revolution China; Economic policy; Southeast Asia; Africa housing Speaker; House of Representatives; Parliament Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders prime ministers sitting days First speech defence budget submarines workers Somalia GDP world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders live exports infant mortality honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Rent Assistance obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Members suspension workplace health and safety marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing political education Social Inclusion Board early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin sanctions Norway hospitals republic President Barack Obama Presidential visits qantas counselling Korean peninsula Work Choices biosecurity hendra environmental law federalism federation preselection therapeutic goods Therapeutic Goods Administration plebiscites computer games pests suicide nuclear COAG Ministerial Councils floods ADHD stimulant medication advertising electricity extradition conscience votes poverty preventative health rural health coastal erosion Parliamentary Budget Office work-life balance

Show all
Show less
Back to top