Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Scientists in Middle East unite to combat water scarcity; solutions yield more crop per drop in drylands

EurekAlert: As rapidly increasing water scarcity threatens to aggravate the effects of climate change on agriculture in the dry areas of the Middle East and other developing countries, scientists launched this week an ambitious seven-country project, which offers new hope for farmers in the face of acute and growing water shortages.

Gathering in Amman, Jordan, for a global conference on food security and climate change in dry areas, experts reported that improved irrigation techniques in rainfed cropping will allow farmers to more than double their wheat yields using only one-third the water they would use with full irrigation; the new methods have been shown to boost farmers' yields up to five-fold over those crops which relied on rainfall only. Such innovative strategies could provide a much-needed lift to livelihoods in dry areas in the developing world, home to almost 25 percent of the world's population.

Regions most affected by drought and water scarcity are also disproportionately challenged by high population growth, climatic unreliability, frequent droughts, and widespread poverty, the experts said, citing figures from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

"In some countries in the region, per capita water availability has dropped to as little as 170 cubic meters per year, well below the internationally recognized water scarcity standard of 1000 cubic meters," said Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the Aleppo-based International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). "There is a direct relationship between access to water and access to food and feed security. Unless we form a united front that responds effectively to water scarcity in agriculture and to the impacts of climate change, the future food security, economic development, and social stability of the entire region will be put in jeopardy."

Seven Middle Eastern countries—Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Yemen—will work jointly to improve water management in agriculture as part of a 10-year effort called the Water and Livelihoods Initiative (WLI), which is being funded through the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and led by ICARDA, which is supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). The WLI will focus on improving rural livelihoods through sustainable land and water management in three agro-systems—irrigated agriculture, rainfed agriculture and rangelands….

The Roman Harbaqa Dam, a gravity dam in the Syrian desert between Damascus and Palmyra, dating to the 2nd century CE, shot by Armin Hermann at, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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