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Friday, September 24, 1999 Published at 17:56 GMT 18:56 UK

World: Middle East

Drought hits Jordan and Syria

Syrian and Jordanian farmers are struggling to cope with drought

By Hala Saleh of the BBC Arabic Service

The government of Jordan has signed an agreement with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) worth $4m to help cope with the severe effects of drought.

The worst water shortages in decades have affected hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East, but Jordan and Syria have been particularly hard hit.

Cereal and other food crops have been decimated, and farmers are facing financial ruin.

[ image: This year's crops have been badly hit]
This year's crops have been badly hit
Cattle-herders and sheep farmers - who in most cases are very poor and don't own the land they farm - are most seriously affected by fodder shortages and dying flocks, according to the WFP.

Even in drought-free years, they barely manage a life of subsistence.

"At least for these people who have been worse hit, it is a relief or a support for a temporary period until the next grazing season until they can recover and reconstitute their herds," said Naila Sabra of the WFP Middle East office.

The WFP's offer of aid to Syria - believed to be larger than the sum agreed with Jordan - is still awaiting approval from Damascus.

[ image: Syria's olives: A hardy survivor]
Syria's olives: A hardy survivor
The drought has had a profound impact on Syria, which is bigger and more populous.

The Badia, a huge expanse of dry grazing land, supports Bedouin herders.

"I saw the herds and they were weak," said Ms Sabra. "The land is dry and there is no grass. I didn't see dying animals because people slaughter them as soon as they get weak. And the people are very worried. They looked exhausted and distressed."

Neither country has established sufficient irrigation projects to reduce dependency on rainfall significantly.

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